A few common threads
By all accounts, 2015 was a damn good year for E3, and the immediate future of video games is looking especially bright. But when we look back on the E3 that was, it's easy to see that - even though these many of these projects are all worked on in strict secrecy - they still share a lot of similarities with one another.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes everyone to suddenly jump aboard the same tracks of parallel thought. Maybe a few dozen grappling hook enthusiasts have wriggled their way into the gaming industry; perhaps everybody's got bigger budgets to spend on eye-catching CGI trailers. Call it coincidence, or call it the natural result of humanity's collective subconscious - these are some of the biggest trends that surfaced in the many amazing E3 2015 games.
Seemingly impossible game revivals
People watch E3 for the surprises, and this year was probably the best in recent memory to deliver on the impossible. Sony's conference was a megaton explosion of revivals, with the return of The Last Guardian, the arrival of Shenmue 3, and a remake for Square Enix's Final Fantasy 7. Square's own conference announced a brand new sequel to the cult-hit Nier. Microsoft even got in on the action, announcing the return of Rare to the world of game design and the arrival of backwards compatibility to the Xbox One. All of these things seemed unthinkable just last week. Now, they're more real than ever.
Look, this really shouldn't be considered a 'trend' - it should just 'be'. But this year's E3 was definitely a step in the right direction, as a good portion of the big-budget games we got to see star some admirable, standout female leads. You can play as either a man or woman in Fallout 4, Emily Kaldwin is as much a main character as Corvo in Dishonored 2, Aloy slays mechanical dinosaurs in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Lara Croft was front and center in two press conferences, and many, many more games either star women, or at the very least allow players to choose their gender. Progress.
Taking franchises in new directions
There's certainly no shortage of sequels that simply expand on prior ideas - Fallout 4 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided are basically like the old games but bigger - but several publishers are taking their beloved franchises in totally new directions. Persona 4: Dancing All Night takes the social-focused JRPG and thrusts it into the rhythm game genre. Two of Bethesda's biggest franchises are getting their own mobile titles: Elder Scrolls Legends takes the sprawling RPG and turns it into a collectible card game, while Fallout Shelter is a neat little life-in-a-Vault management game. Even Ghost Recon is transforming in a big way, taking a straightforward squad-based shooter and blowing it out to open-world proportions - much like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain's own approach to breaking away from constrained level structure.
It's shocking how many CGI trailers we saw at E3 this year, but a lot of that has to do with how many games are slated for 2016 and beyond. We get it: publishers want to sell people on the high concept of their games, and they want to do it with some pizazz. Or maybe whatever game they're hawking isn't ready to be shown just yet. Regardless of the reason, CGI trailers are ultimately an empty promise. They're all style and no substance, filled with impossibly gorgeous visuals and highly-detailed action that will in no way be representative of the final, playable product. When you see a CGI trailer in a conference, it's basically your window of opportunity to grab a soda from the fridge, because other than the name, what you're seeing isn't going to exist.
If the popularity of Batman and Spider-Man tells us anything, it's that people love imagining what it would be like to swing off of anything and everything. And while trying to fashion your own real-life grappling hook will probably land you in the nearest emergency room, games let you zip around on a metal tether with all the freedom in the world. The grappling hook is one of the Just Cause series' biggest claims to fame, so of course it's back for Just Cause 3 - but Nathan Drake is also getting in on the snag-and-swing action in Uncharted 4. Emily Kaldwin has some kind of nether-tendril that she can use to vault onto rooftops in Dishonored 2. And is that a wrist-mounted hookshot we see on Faith's arm in Mirror's Edge Catalyst?
Platinum Games is everywhere
Seriously, Platinum Games went from making one or two projects at a time to making all of the games. They're working on Star Fox Zero for Nintendo, they're going to be working on Square Enix's sequel to the cult-hit RPG Nier, they're making a brand new Transformers game for Activision, and they've still got Scalebound for Microsoft (though we'll most likely see more of that at Gamescom). Three new announcements at E3 from a studio responsible for fantastic over-the-top action games. Everybody wins.
In 2015 and beyond, it's not just enough to play your games as designed. Publishers now want you to build and share your own creations made inside the game. With the popularity - or rather, cult-like devotion of millions - surrounding Minecraft, games have an increasing desire to cater to a generation of I'll-just-build-it-myself creators. Media Molecule's Dreams expands on lessons learned from its work on LittleBigPlanet, but that's expected. The bigger surprises come from companies like Nintendo and Bethesda. Super Mario Maker aims to be the only Mario game you'll ever need, as you can create and download custom stages across a variety of Super Mario styles. Bethesda's rolling out Doom Snapmap, which allows players to create their own arenas and gametypes within the ultra-violent shooter. Even Fallout 4's getting in on the creation craze, giving players the opportunity to construct their own settlements, and even do some light programming of their own.
Buddying up against the AI
They say that human beings are social animals, and while we all love to kill one another in multiplayer deathmatches, we also have an inherent need to unite and take out some aggression on emotionless computers. Many of the games at E3 2015 tapped into that sense of togetherness with tight squads of cooperative players squaring off against AI hordes. Ghost Recon: Wildlands encourages players to pair up in groups of four when taking down drug cartels, The Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Warriors makes three the magic number, Rainbow Six Siege lets you hunt AI anarchists in Terrohunt mode, and Star Wars Battlefront's co-op survival missions pit two Rebel players against an army of Imperial troopers. We would include The Division but... we've all seen how friendships crumble in those Dark Zones when there's loot to be had.