Since the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, many set their sights on E3 2021 as being the time where the rest of the year's releases for these consoles would get mapped out. After all, that's always been the case. E3 sits slap bang in the middle of a year as the core pillar around which all game announcements revolve, setting the agenda for that crucial September - December release window. But E3 2021 has felt different, with too few games spread thinly across a vast array of digital showcases, the focus has drifted from 2021 into next year, where the value of Xbox Series X and PS5 will really start to shine. But it leaves 2021 in a slightly odd space.
So far, 2021 has been the year of delays and announcements for titles in the very early stages of development. Earlier this year we had the reveals of MachineGames' new Indiana Jones game, Massive Entertainment's open-world Star Wars game, IO Interactive's Project 007, and even the tease of a new TimeSplitters emerged – all of which are seemingly many years away from being released.
We've also seen plenty of games slip out of their original 2021 release windows, including a duo of Warner Bros titles – Hogwarts Legacy and Gotham Knights. The long maligned Ubisoft title Skull and Bones has also shifted back again, this time to 2022. Sony, despite its palpable E3 2021 absence, has already delayed God of War 2 to next year and has warned that the original holiday 2021 release date for Horizon Forbidden West now "isn't quite certain", despite not yet officially postponing the release.
A COVID-shaped shadow
It doesn't help that 2021 is sitting in the shadow of last year. It's hard to deny that 2020 was a brilliant year for video games, with the combination of new console releases and the pandemic bringing everyone forcefully inside. Gaming became a safe social space for people to escape to, which saw player counts boom and the phenomenal success of titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Fall Guys, and Among Us. But, those lockdowns and unprecedented limitations have clearly had an effect on 2021 – both in terms of game development and the actual ability to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X, along with the latest slew of PC graphics cards.
Thus, the usual March rush of game releases slipped to later in the year, and despite the arrival of titles like Returnal, Outriders, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, this year has felt pretty barren for blockbusters. E3 would usually be the place that we'd expect to see this smattering of releases fill out with a strong end-of-year plan, but E3 2021 pushed the focus to 2022 and beyond more than any other event of its kind.
That was particularly palpable during the Xbox and Bethesda E3 2021 showcase, which kicked off with the Bethesda Games Studios' upcoming space adventure Starfield receiving a November 2022 release date. But it didn't stop there. Its biggest reveals – Redfall, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, Slime Rancher 2, Plague Tale Requiem – all sport a 2022 release date, along with quirky and interesting smaller titles like Party Animals and Somerville. Others, like Avalanche's Contraband, didn't even wink at any kind of release date – or much of what it'll be like to play for that matter.
A 2022 focus
"We want to get to a point of releasing a new game every quarter," said Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, in a recent press briefing attended by GamesRadar, which is a fantastic promise, but one that feels a long way off. Xbox's slate for 2021 and its inimitable Game Pass is populated with titles like Annapurna's 12 Minutes, the arrival of Hades on Xbox, and third-party games like Anacrusis and Back 4 Blood, before its own titles like Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite arrive at the tail end of the year.
Beyond the announcement of Metroid Dread – the first new 2D Metroid in 19 years – and a new WarioWare, Nintendo too is lacking a big 2021 Christmas release. Breath of the Wild 2 did get some time in the Direct spotlight, but revealed a 2022 release date. Meanwhile, top anticipated titles like Super Mario Odyssey 2 or Mario Kart 9, and the heavily rumored Nintendo Switch Pro were completely absent. Square Enix did deliver Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy with an October 26 release date across all platforms (including Nintendo Switch), but Ubisoft Forward's two big reveals also arrived with 2022 release dates – Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
That's not to say that 2021 is completely barren of new releases, but they are, on the whole, cross-platform, cross-generation extravaganzas. From Ubisoft, we'll have Riders Republic, Far Cry 6, and Rainbow Six Extraction, while Square Enix's Eidos Montreal will deliver its single-player take on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. We'll also have EA's highly anticipated Battlefield 2042, Techland's much delayed Dying Light 2, Warner Bros' Left 4 Dead spiritual successor Back 4 Blood, and Deck Nine's Life is Strange True Colors. In fact, currently, the only exclusives confirmed for the winter period are arcade racer Forza Horizon 5 and – hopefully – Halo Infinite, which still clings onto its vague 'Holiday 2021' launch window.
2022 will clearly be the year that the PS5 and Xbox Series X really come into focus, with exclusive titles now centered around that year, along with the hope of more consumer availability for both machines. It leaves 2021 feeling like a stop-gap, although thankfully with enough cross-platform, cross-generational releases to keep things feeling exciting. It's just not quite the first year of the PS5 and Xbox Series X that anyone was expecting. Thanks, COVID.
Of course, a lot can change between now and December, with Sony especially yet to reveal its end-of-year hand. But, it's hard to ignore the fact that we've seen more delays and release date slips this year than we have 2021 release dates. E3 2021 was certainly an exciting look at 2022 and the power of the Xbox Series and Game Pass in particular, but 2021 may well be the strangest year for gaming in a long time.