E3 2021: Microsoft and Bethesda keynote highlights

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We knew this one was coming. When Microsoft’s Xbox announced back in March it had acquired Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax — and with it, a ton of other studios — the stage was set for the pair to be more intimately linked at E3.

This suspicion was confirmed last month with the announcement that Microsoft was to hold its annual keynote in conjunction with Bethesda. What this meant for gamers was a few questions (would the next Elder Scrolls be an MS-platform exclusive?) and a host of expectations (between the pair of them, these entities couldn’t produce a damp squib at E3 this year).

Well, now that the dust has settled, here are some of the highlights from the keynote.

Bethesda’s Starfield is an Xbox Series X/S and PC exclusive

Elder Scrolls fans can probably breathe a sigh of relief. Their beloved IP is still multi-platform (for now) but Xbox Series X/S and PC owners have Bethesda’s new game Starfield all to themselves. It arrives on 11 November 2022 – well, unless it’s delayed.

It’s a sci-fi RPG, which apparently has been “25 years in the making” and the footage in the trailer is described as “in-game alpha“. We don’t know how it plays currently, but at least we know it’s in the pipeline.

Halo Infinite is arriving this year

Master Chief is back and players will be able to pick up the story from Halo 5 from (checks calendar) five frickin’ years ago, when it drops in “Holiday 2021”. That would be around Christmas time then.

Having never been fans of the lore of this universe, for our money, the real draw here is the free-to-play multiplayer, which launches with the paid campaign. Clock an eye at the trailer above; it’s packed to the gills with shooter, jumping, shooting, hammering, shooting, vehicles and more shooting. And remember, if you stick a grappling hook in your game, that’s a bunch of extra points!

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl is coming next year

Announced aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back in 2010 and announced for 2012, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl from the sounds of things has had a difficult development cycle. So it was great to hear that not only is the game oven-ready, but it’ll be out next year in April.

From the looks of the trailer the game has a paranormal edge to it and despite the fluid gameplay making the protagonist look like a walking slaughterhouse, it promises to be genuinely scary. It’s also the first title in this series to be an MS platform exclusive. It’ll be interesting to see have the faithful respond to that.

Back 4 Blood lands in October

Anyone remember Left 4 Dead? You know, arguably the best co-op/zombie shooter of its day? Well, its creators Turtle Rock have been working on a spiritual successor for some time now and at the keynote, it was announced it’ll be out this year on 12th October.

From the looks of the trailer, Back 4 Blood ticks all of the L4D’s requirements and then some. If you want a taster, pre-order it and you can get into the beta this August. Just try to  scrub any memories of Evolve from your mind before you open your wallet.

Contraband is… a thing

Developer Avalanche Studios will always get a pass from us because of the criminally underrated Mad Max. And Just Cause 3. And Rage 2, which is better than the original Rage, just don’t tell John Carmack that. So it’s pretty exciting to see it has a new IP called Contraband in the pipeline.

And also kind of frustrating because apart from the fact that the trailer says it’s an open-world RPG, we have no idea what to make of it. The only clue about the world it contains is a dead body under a truck with…. things… growing out of it. But as we said, this studio always gets a pass. We’re cautiously optimistic.

Replaced is… another thing

Looking for all the world like a game that was pumped up by Devolver, Replaced is hard to gauge. Its setting looks equal parts cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic. Its gameplay includes combat, platforming and lonely walks on gritty streets. And its graphics look wonderfully retro.

We’ll admit it: we’re intrigued.

Right, you tell us what’s going on in Atomic Heart

Robots! Steampunk-looking weapons! Car chases! A soundtrack that sounds like it would be more at home in a twee Anime than a game. More robots that you can control with your mind… or something.

By far the most baffling game trailer of the entire keynote. Yeah, we’re in.

Has Redfall killed Bloodlines 2’s chances?

Arkane Studios – they of Prey and Dishonored(sic) fame – have a new IP coming out called Redfall. 

Given the pedigree of their last couple of games and the fact that Redfall looks amazing, we have to ask: has this shoved a stake through the heart of the troubled Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2? After all, how many vampire games can players take all at once. This one’s scheduled for release next year in “Summer 2022” – which as we all know means “Winter” for us down south.

Forza Horizon 5 heads to Mexico

It’s getting to the stage now where any keynote involving MS will have at least some news about an upcoming Forza game. This year, the Xbox owner put Forza Horizon 5 on the starting grid.

The game looks absolutely stunning, the frame rate slick as butter on a hot skillet and like its forebears, it aims for player ‘fun’ rather than the poe-faced ‘serious racing’ of its parent franchise. It’s coming on the 9th November this year and if you subscribe to Game Pass, you can play it on Day One.

Party Animals looks awesome

Punch a tiger in the face! Kick a corgi’s butt! Taze a gorilla! You can do all of this and more in Party Animals, which is easily the barmiest, cutest and most interesting brawler we’ve seen in ages.

Pity you’ll have to wait until next year, though.

Shredders may scratch that SSX itch

One day EA will remember how popular the SSX series was when it was being developed by EA Sports BIG.

Until such time as they do, players will have Shredders, which looks for all the world like a slicker version of SSX3. And that’s no bad thing. EA have until December to catch up, which is when this game drops.

Captain Jack Sparrow is coming to Sea Of Thieves

Do you play Sea Of Thieves? No? Then you won’t care about this announcement.

If you do play Sea Of Thieves then you might be interested that Captain Jack Sparrow is coming to the game. We can’t measure how excited this makes you because no one in the office plays Sea Of Thieves – and if they do they’ve kept quiet about it.

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I've been writing about tech and games for around 20 years. Been playing games since I was tall enough to reach the controls on an arcade machine. Old enough to remember when games weren't something people yelled at each other about.