E3 2013 provided some phenomenal sights, sounds and experiences thanks to the upcoming launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. Yet identifying the best games of E3 can’t really be done on the last day of the show or the following week. With all the big screens and bigger marketing campaigns, it’s too tempting to blindly follow the pretty blinking thing. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we’ve purposefully held our Best of E3 awards for six weeks – long enough to be immune to the multimedia blitz, and far enough away from hype machines to render a clear-minded opinion. Keep in mind that awards like this reflect the titles that most impress or intrigue the author from each respective category, so some of these are different from how you would’ve felt. And now, with that disclaimer out of the way, we present DailyGame’s Best of E3 2013: Six Weeks Later Awards.
Best of Show — Assassin’s Creed IV and The Witcher 3 (TIE)
In the decade I’ve spent attending and covering E3, there’s always been one game that stood out in terms of making me crave the opportunity to see and play more. This year I can’t stop thinking about two. So, for the first time ever, we have a tie for our Best of Show award. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looks astounding, has gameplay as deep as the seas on which gamers sail, and includes a companion app that’ll make you want time away from the TV so you can delve into the game’s lore and literature on a tablet. The Witcher 3, meanwhile, has more role-playing depth than Skyrim — certainly no small feat — and manages to remain next-gen gorgeous in spite of that scope. I’ve spent six weeks enduring wars between my inner RPG geek and pirate fanatic. Today, I’m pleased to call a truce by saying both Assassin’s Creed IV and The Witcher 3 are worthy of our overall Best of E3 2013 award.
Best Adventure Game — Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is no stranger to excellence, and its fourth entry, Black Flag, will fly that tradition high alongside its skull and crossbones. One might argue that Ubisoft’s a tad late to the pirate genre, but it’s clear the publisher’s liar’s-dice roll will pay off. The sun-drenched setting spans both land and sea, and although the ship handling is very arcadey, the gameplay implications of opening the tropics in this way are phenomenal. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag boasts the largest world of any AC game date, and there’s plenty to explore, battle and plunder on islands, ships and all points in between. The mix of gunplay, swordplay and ship-based combat offers plenty of depth, and that’s before touching multiplayer. Dead men may tell no tales, but this live one is pleased to report that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is poised to be a true next-gen treasure.
Best Role-Playing Game — The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Apparently the best really is saved for last, as the final game in The Witcher story, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is shaping up to be one of the most epic role-playing games of all time. For the first time in the series, Wild Hunt will be free-roaming and have non-linear quests in a multi-region world — complete with boats. I’m a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, so it both pains and thrills me to say The Witcher 3 looks more epic than Bethesda’s masterpiece. It’s very fantastical, seems to have a great narrative tying together its free-roaming elements, and it manages to pull-off incredible graphics throughout. On the Xbox One, the optional voice commands for tasks like quick weapon switching will be icing on the already excellent RPG cake that is The Witcher 3.
Best Survival Horror Game — The Evil Within
Every now and then Bethesda throws a curveball at gamers. The Evil Within is shaping up to be a perfect strike. Created by the father of the Resident Evil franchise, The Evil Within brings survival horror back to its roots by providing players limited resources as they balance action and stealth in a fight for survival. No other game at E3 2013 had the same cinematic excellence, adrenaline-pounding cameras or sweat-inducing audio as this game, and all three elements are critical to the survival-horror genre. Amid the gaming world’s fascination with zombie games, it’s refreshing to see a studio return the genre’s focus back to “horror” elements. We spent less time with the action gameplay than the stealth side, but if Bethesda can balance them both while aligning them with the psychological horror elements, The Evil Within could be the best survival-horror game the genre has seen in years.
Best Shooter — Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare wasn’t the most high-profile shooter at E3 — those honors fell to Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone: Shadow Fall — but six weeks later, it’s the one I most want to play. BF4 and COD Ghosts are making great strides in their storytelling, and Killzone looks as good as expected, but the gameplay of all three is familiar. Conversely, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is as fresh as a dinner salad. Its graphics are bright, colorful and original, while its class-based squad mechanics provide the depth demanded by hardcore gamers. In some ways it’s reminiscent of a much more refined Conker: Live and Reloaded, but it’s infinitely more polished for the next console generation. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare may not sell as well as the heavily marketed BF4 or COD Ghosts, but it’s the shooter I’m most interested in playing six weeks after E3.
Best Racing Game — Need for Speed Rivals
Amid genre stalwarts like Forza Motorsport 5 and original franchises like Driveclub and The Crew, one racing game has me continually thinking about more playtime six weeks after E3: Need for Speed Rivals. Racing awards are bound to be the most divided in the Best of E3 2013 conversation, because you’ll always have the “arcade vs. simulator” argument. Ironically, that made this decision even easier; the simulators all feel about the same, but Need for Speed Rivals is arcade racing at its finest. The PS4 graphics look incredible, the game world is brimming with dozens of objective-based challenges, and the seamless integration of campaign and multiplayer has stepped it up from last year’s entry. Running from cops and rivals reflects the series’ fun-filled roots, while playing as a cop adds a fun twist. If I had to pick one racing game to play on PS4 or Xbox One right now, it would be Need for Speed Rivals.
Best Family Game — Skylanders: Swap Force
The original Looney Tunes cartoons were so beloved in large part because they offered something for every member of the family. Fast-forward 30+ years, and those sensibilities are alive and well in Skylanders: Swap Force. Kaos is back to his old world-dominating tricks (now with his mom in tow!), but gamers no longer fight with static heroes. With Swap Force, players can interchange the top and bottom halves of real-world Skylanders toys to create characters that are fun in real life and have on-screen gameplay implications. Want to mix the Air weapons from Free Ranger with the Water-based mobility of Freeze Blade? Just swap their halves to create “Free Blade.” With eight new playable Swap Force zones, a beautiful new game engine and 256 different character combinations, Swap Force gives serious new tactical excuses for mom and dad to use when justifying their joy of playing alongside the kids. Disney Infinity has good potential, but Skylanders: Swap Force is guaranteed to deliver hours of family fun.
Best Open-World Game — Tom Clancy’s The Division
Ubisoft has been reverting certain games in the Tom Clancy series to their tactical origins, a welcome change in the overcrowded action/shooter genre. With its newest Clancy franchise, The Division, Ubisoft has found a way to bring tactical action to the open-world realm without overwhelming gamers. In The Division, players can say goodbye to classes and simply choose the tools, weapons and skills that reflect the way they wish to play. When they reclaim a police station, they’ll not only gather a new resource point for their neighborhood, but trigger benefits for the borough, city, county and state. Smart battle tactics are vital throughout, and “second screen” gamers with a tablet can mark enemies, buff friends’ damage, issue airstrikes and act as a mission commander. The fact that all of this takes place in an online open world and has quite possibly the best graphics you’ve ever seen are remarkable feats for a new franchise. The game is hard to classify, but it seemed to make the most sense for our Best of E3 2013: Best Open-World game award. The Division is part RPG, part shooter, and all open-world excellence.
– Jonas Allen