Take a deep breath. After a whirlwind week at E3 2016 (opens in new tab) full of impressive trailers and invigorating demos, let's take a moment to highlight some of the original ideas and innovative approaches on display – from bewildering, unusual locations, like the Death Stranding beach; to weapons like Watch Dogs 2's billiard ball whip. It's these inventive, cleverly realized, touches that keep gaming fresh – even if it's something as granular as a single item, level, or idea.
1) The Division: Underground's blacklight dungeon
Unlike most massively multiplayer games, which have all the creative freedom for level designs that a fantasy world affords, The Division has to keep things largely grounded due to its setting of post-pandemic New York City. But the subterranean dungeons briefly shown in the trailer for Underground, the MMO shooter's first expansion, spice up the typical urban aesthetic with splashes of neon paint lit up by the rays of a blacklight. It's a stylish look and a welcome change from all the concrete greys and wooden browns Division players are used to.
2) Fallout 4's Nuka-World
For whatever reason, I adore the concept of twisted theme parks, so I desperately want to visit Nuka-World. In-game, that is; have you seen the size of those radroaches? If Disneyland was themed around the post-apocalypse soft drink of choice and taken over by Raiders, Nuka-World would be the result, complete with some rickety rollercoasters, Tomorrowland-style marvels, and a Matterhorn-esque mountain propped up by a gigantic cola bottle. It looks so unlike the rest of Fallout 4's Boston, and the individual regions of the park - including the familiarly themed Galactic Zone, Safari Adventure, Dry Rock Gulch, and Kiddie Kingdom - all sound amazing. This final piece of Fallout 4 DLC should close out Bethesda's latest with a bang.
3) Steep's GoPro view
Much like video games, GoPro footage is a great way to experience thrilling, potentially deadly recreation without putting your physical being in harm's way. And when Steep - the newly revealed extreme winter sports game from Ubisoft - puts the two together, it makes for some shockingly convincing visuals. Because all the skiers, snowboarders, and wingsuit fliers are all wearing masks to keep them warm and protected, Steep can focus all its graphical power on rendering some incredibly lifelike snowscapes, which all look great from the not-quite-first-person view of a helmet-mounted GoPro.
4) Death Stranding's macabre beach
Virtual beaches are typically tropical paradises, with golden sand and blue skies - but not in a Hideo Kojima game. The enigmatic reveal of Death Stranding, the first title from Kojima Productions, opts for the bleak imagery of bland sand, foreboding clouds, and dead sealife washed ashore for as far as the eye can see (a real-world phenomenon know as cetacean stranding (opens in new tab)). It's a scene that's clearly of this Earth, yet feels so surreal, and I can only imagine what awaits naked Norman Reedus on this barren coastline. Those crab carcasses at the beginning of the trailer look positively alien, showcasing the power of Kojima's directorial eye.
5) Dishonored 2's timepiece
Dishonored games are all about getting creative with your methods of elimination, and the timepiece gifted to Emily and Corvo by supernatural meddler The Outsider opens up all kinds of possibilities for artistic assassinations. Swapping between time periods in games has been done before, but never with this much fluidity, and the way Dishonored 2 uses the lens of the timepiece to give you a real-time you into the past/future is breathtaking. It'll be really interesting to see if any enemy types will be able to follow you between time hops, keeping you on your toes and forcing quick improvisation.
6) Watch Dogs 2's billiard ball whip
Aiden Pearce, the bland, unrelatable hacker who starred in the first Watch Dogs, will not be missed. That includes his signature melee weapon, the Tactical Baton, which had all the finesse and excitement of whacking somebody in the shin. But Marcus, the new protagonist in Watch Dogs 2 and a member of the San Francisco hacker collective Deadsec, knocks out his enemies with something much snazzier: a billiard ball affixed to a bungee cord, which could definitely dole out some serious concussions. I'm a total sucker for quirky, impractical armements like Ness' yo-yo or the deadly kendama from Samurai Warriors, so Marcus' melee weapon is right up my alley. Oh, and if you prefer firearms, he also likes to 3D print his own guns, which has to be a first for a video game hero.
7) Persona 5's domino masks
The intrepid teens of the Persona series may differ from game to game, but their snazzy sense of style is a delightful constant. Persona 4's crew set a standard for trendy eyewear with their chic glasses, but Persona 5 (opens in new tab) ups the ante with full-on domino masks that give everyone the air of a Japanese Zorro. Their designs are all primo, including a skull, fox, cat, and bird that may hint at their wearer's inner selves - but the introduction of masks also plays a dual part in Persona 5's story. The cast's alter egos are known as Phantom Thieves, and their masks give them a cat burglar-esque disguise, but they also serve a thematic purpose, as the gang endeavors to break through the masks and fronts that the general populace hides behind. That's the kind of nifty, symbolic fashion I can get behind!
8) Battlefield 1's zeppelin
You don't see dirigibles too often, whether in games or real life - but the way Battlefield 1 (opens in new tab) looks to utilize them is absolutely inspired. In BF1's World War 1 setting, circa 1914, the concept of a zeppelin must've been mind-blowingly intimidating to soldiers on the ground: a giant, floating behemoth that dwarfs any individual and seems absolutely invincible. Whether BF1 uses the zeppelin as a single-player story beat or a multiplayer vehicle of mass destruction, the way it portrays an airship as an unstoppable, almost otherwordly monster that strikes fear in any troop's heart is brilliant.
9) Agents of Mayhem's Teleharpoon
I'm not entirely sold on Volition's Agents of Mayhem just yet, despite liking the intentional goofiness of the studio's Saints Row series. But there's one character from the trio of agents shown off the in the cinematic reveal trailer who piqued my interest: Ishmael 'Hardtack' Funderburke, who resembles a salty sailor crossed with the hero of a blaxploitation film. It's his Teleharpoon weapon that won me over, a hefty version of the whaling weapon that can pierce the metallic shell of a monstrous robot and seems like it could tear down huge chunks of the environment. The fact that Hardtack simply hurls the Teleharpoon with all his might rather than firing it from some high-tech cannon makes it even better.
10) Injustice 2's power armor
The cinematic trailer for Injustice 2 (opens in new tab) revealed a new twist to go along with the hero-on-hero violence and environmental attacks introduced in the first game: every character gets their own suit of power armor (perhaps in place of the distinct traits from Gods Among Us) that enhances their fighting prowess. That alone wouldn't be so original, but Netherrealm Studios' Tyler Lansdown explains (opens in new tab) that this is part of the new Gear System, which "uses RPG-like mechanics to reward you with loot drops every time you play". The last time a fighting game dabbled with character customization was the flawed Gem System in Capcom's Street Fighter X Tekken, and that ended badly - but the idea of shaping your favorite character to perfectly match your playstyle with unique equipment deserves to be done right. It'll be interesting to see how Injustice 2 tackles this appealing-in-theory, tricky-in-practice concept, hopefully steering clear of SFXT's dreadful microtransactions.
11) Ludens' Extravehicular Creative Activity Suit
When Hideo Kojima is at the helm, one distinctive character design is all it takes to drum up a hail storm of hype. A big part of that excitement comes from how stinkin' cool this company mascot - recently revealed to be named Ludens (opens in new tab) - looks, with his excessively ornate spacesuit modeled after ancient armors and a skull mask underneath the helmet that ostensibly serves no practical purpose besides looking sweet.
12) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's Titan Shield
Abilities and items that grant temporary invulnerability are nothing new for video games, and Adam Jensen's Titan Shield augmentation does what you'd expect: it's a bulletproof exoskeleton that surrounds your body for a few precious seconds, allowing Jensen to wade through incoming fire unharmed. But the visual effect of the Titan Shield creeping up around Jensen's body and creating a jet black, angular shell is stunning to behold. It's a bit like a metallic, polygonal version of Mystique's transformations from the X-Men films, and it's worth taking cover with your Titan Shield on just to get a third-person view of Jensen's impervious carapace as it shimmers and prickles with shard-like spikes when hit.