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The Week in Gaming: Starfield, Metroid Dread, Halo, Zelda & more — a closer look at E3's biggest hits
Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
E3 2021 is in the books, and with it, a (somewhat) clearer picture of what to expect over the next year from Xbox, Nintendo, and the third-party studios that’ll be bringing new games to more than one console. That makes now the perfect moment to pause and take a closer peek at the biggest (and freshest) highlights, before E3 holdout Sony answers back sometime soon with its next State of Play showcase… and before we get too busy playing all this sweet new stuff we just learned about.
With no in-person stage show in Los Angeles, this year’s E3 may have felt comparatively muted as a live-wire event. From Ubisoft to Capcom to Square Enix and everything in between, it was all pre-recorded and delivered in a carefully curated online stream. But whether it was Microsoft’s marathon rundown of everything coming to Xbox, or Nintendo’s surprise reveal of a previously-unannounced Metroid, the games themselves were definitely well represented.
There’s a ton of ground to cover in the E3 aftermath, so let’s get straight to the highlights…if, that is, we can stop rewatching that amazing Metroid Dread trailer.
Microsoft: Starfield, Redfall, & Halo Infinite
The Elder Scrolls VI may still be as big a mystery as ever, but Bethesda used its first-ever joint showcase with new owner Microsoft to show off the very first proper footage from its long-in-development sci-fi RPG Starfield. “It’s like Skyrim in space,” Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard confided in a followup interview at The Washingotn Post, while Bethesda’s Ashley Cheng described it as “the Han Solo simulator. Get in a ship, explore the galaxy, do fun stuff.”
The cinematic trailer didn’t get into actual gameplay, but showed off a sci-fi aesthetic that’s at once futuristic and — perhaps in a nod to Bethesda’s Fallout DNA — just a little bit retro and tattered. It’s fun seeing console fixtures on a spaceship that look like A/C controls from a 1980s sedan, so it’s no wonder Starfield’s neat mixture of spacey escapism with lived-in human wear and tear proved a hit with director James Gunn, who asked fans if he could just put Guardians of the Galaxy 3 on hold long enough to play Starfield first:
Starfield is set to release on Nov. 11 of next year (and for what it’s worth, Guardians 3 should be in theaters six months later...just in time for that new Guardians-themed game from Square Enix). That Han Solo comparison is hopelessly stuck in our heads now, so we’re counting out the long days until launch wondering if Bethesda’s new space RPG — its first new original IP since The Elder Scrolls — will include a “Scoundrel” character build. Starfield is set to arrive on PC and as an Xbox console exclusive.
Like Starfield, we’ve touched on Redfall, the newly-announced vampire game from Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, in more detail here. But it’s worth pointing out that Redfall was on no one’s radar prior to E3 — at least, not in the version that Bethesda showed. Two years ago (via IGN), internet-scanning Elder Scrolls fans set about sleuthing and speculating that “Redfall” might be the name for Skyrim’s TESVI successor, after news got out that parent company Zenimax Media was trying to secure the term as a trademark. With Arkane’s E3 announcement now behind us, the “Redfall” part turned out to be real…but it was all in the service of a co-op (or single player; the choice is yours!) game about lab-created vampires gone haywire.
So much for last year’s low-res meme-ing of “Craig” the facially featureless brute. 343 Industries’ new look at Halo Infinite, both in gameplay and a gripping zero-gravity cinematic trailer, left little doubt that the studio has used the game’s year-long delay to add polish to what’s sure to be one of the most anticipated games of 2021.
The case of the missing Cortana lies at the heart of Infinite’s story, as Master Chief discovered after space-jumping his way through the trailer. “We are continuing the story of the Master Chief and Cortana from Halo 5, but also telling a story that’s welcoming for new players,” creative head Joseph Staten said in a followup blog post, adding that “Cortana’s fate is one of the Infinite campaign’s big mysteries.” Returning with a solo campaign and a multiplayer mode that’s sure to keep legions of Spartans on the edge of their seats for years, Halo Infinite is set to debut this holiday season.
We can’t let Microsoft’s E3 highlight reel flash past without pointing out one cool bit of news that came later in the week: Through the magic of its Xbox Cloud Gaming service, upcoming games developed for the new-gen Xbox Series X/S will be playable for owners of the older Xbox One console.
“For the millions of people who play on Xbox One consoles today, we are looking forward to sharing more about how we will bring many of these next-gen games, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, to your console through Xbox Cloud Gaming, just like we do with mobile devices, tablets, and browsers,” Microsoft’s Wiill Tuttle teased in a blog post that was otherwise light on details. We don’t know whether the new functionality will apply to every next-gen Xbox game, but we’ve definitely got our antennae attuned for Microsoft’s next update.
Nintendo: Metroid Dread & Breath of the Wild sequel
Like everyone else, you’ve likely seen the trailer by now — so how about some atmospheric screenshots that Nintendo dropped in the wake of its planet-shaking announcement of an all-new Metroid game? Nintendo wanted to make this game years ago as the DS handheld’s direct successor to 2005’s Metroid Fusion. But, as producer Yoshio Sakamoto explained in a cool behind-the-scenes developer’s video, “we felt the technology back then just couldn’t properly bring the concept to life.”
Metroid Dread may be a throwback 2D side-scrolling adventure that harkens to Nintendo’s retro glory days, but one look at the trailer is all you need to understand where Sakamoto’s coming from here. The camera sweeps into 3D cinematic mode for story beats before diving back into platforming goodness, and there’s an overall sheen to the footage that seems like something of a straight-from-the-source answer to all the (admittedly outstanding) Metroidvania games that Nintendo’s NES-era classic inspired in the first place.
For longtime fans, Dread will be no less a must-play game than Metroid Prime 4, its upcoming 3D sibling. And for newer players raised on more recent Metroidvania games like Hollow Knight and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it’s poised to serve as an old-school gaming masterclass from the studio that started it all. Metroid Dread releases for the Switch on Oct. 8 of this year.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the N64 successor to Ocarina of Time, a game many still regard as one of the greatest ever made. So it’s no surprise that fans have begun seeking parallels between the sequel to Breath of the Wild and the Switch game that preceded it…which also entered the best-ever discussion when it released in 2017.
But after fans got their first extended look at the game’s new trailer this week, Nintendo followed up to quiet those comparisons as best it could — even if the trailer made it appear they’re not entirely unfounded. “I understand people making that conclusion, but at the same time — and I don’t want to delve too much into it — but this is its own game,” Bill Trinen, of the company’s Nintendo Treehouse North American division, shared with IGN. “…I think as we start to show a bit more of the game over the coming months to the next year or so, it’ll probably start to be a bit more apparent where this game stands on its own and what makes it so unique."
Majora’s Mask unfolded on the fringes of Termina Field, the hub of a parallel world to Ocarina’s Hyrule. BOTW2 (or whatever we’ll end up calling it) heads back to the same Hyrule as its predecessor, but the trailer made it clear that this is a very different, and far darker, place. Link looks like he’s perhaps occupying two different time periods within it (he wears different clothing and has shaggier hair in one sequence), again cueing fans to invoke the idea that time travel might be involved — as it was in Majora’s Mask.
Leaving all the comparisons aside, the new game looks distinctive from its older sibling in other ways, including what looks like a hugely (and we mean hugely) expanded focus on sky travel, as well as some mysterious new ability that lets Link morph right through solid barriers. Link also wields fire at one point, while an earlier trailer moment shows his arm wrapped in a gooey red corruption summoned up by Ganondorf.
We’re admittedly just spitballing ideas like every other fan, and Nintendo said after the trailer debuted that it’ll share more info about the game well before its vaguely-indicated 2022 release. Until right before launch time, though, one of those things may not be the official name: Trinen told IGN that the game does already have a title, but that revealing it early might spoil the story.
We can wait. If the sequel manages to set itself apart the way Majora’s Mask did, we’ll patiently bide our time until Nintendo decides it's time to share more. We’re on record saying Ocarina of Time was surpassed by its successor, and nothing would make us feel the power of the Triforce all over again like playing a Breath of the Wild sequel that does the same.