The closest thing gamers have to a holy pilgrimage comes in the form of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. E3 takes over the Los Angeles Convention Center for only three days every year, but entire weeks leading up to the show are filled with hype and rumors about what games and hardware will be shown and announced.
This year’s no different. In fact, the stakes feel higher in 2011 than they have in some time. New hardware from Nintendo and Sony will make its debut, and top-secret unannounced titles will step out from the shadows. On top of all that, a number of existing franchises will either have ambitious sequels or aggressive reboots jockeying for gamers’ attention. While our coverage doesn’t really begin in earnest until next week, here’s a rundown of things that we’re already excited about.
Mass Effect 3
What We Know Already: The last part of BioWare’s epic space trilogy was supposed to come out later this year, but got pushed back to 2012. Commander Shepard’s ongoing battle to stop the Reapers–an evil machine race bent on destroying all organic life–moves to Earth in a final desperate bid to save the universe. For all the action they provide, the Mass Effect games are really one big space opera where relationships carry over from each game. In a move many fans applauded, BioWare announced that ME3 will offer same-sex relationships for male and female characters for the first time. So assuming your Commander Shepard saves the universe, she or he will get a victory kiss from whomever you want that to be.
The Big Mystery: It’s long been rumored that the threequel will add some sort of multiplayer to the Mass Effect series for the first time. While the structure of the main storyline doesn’t appear to be capable of supporting multiplayer, the sure-to-be-bigger scale of the battles in Mass Effect 3 offer plenty of opportunities for multiplayer. I think we’ll wind up seeing co-op and competitive multiplayer modes in the style of Gears of War‘s “Horde” mode, or like the SpecOps missions in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
What We’ll Probably Find Out: The exact release date. ME3‘s tentatively slated for the first quarter of 2012, which means it could stretch out to as far as March. Mass Effect 2 hit early last year and did well, so the new release date may follow suit.
(More on TIME.com: ‘Mass Effect 3′ Delayed Until Next Year)
Batman: Arkham City
What We Know Already: The Dark Knight’s return puts him in a chunk of Gotham City that’s been converted into a gigantic super-prison. In Arkham City, criminals are allowed to run free and do as they will as long as they don’t try to escape. Like that’s gonna happen. Batman will have access to new and retooled gadgets as well as fresh combat moves that make him even more formidable. And since you’ll be covering huge outdoor spaces in the game, you’ll be able to dive, swoop and glide for faster traversal.
The Big Mystery: Whether it’ll be strictly single-player. One of the biggest rumors about the Bat-sequel was confirmed with the reveal of Catwoman as a playable character, but it remains to be seen if the Bat and the Cat will be controllable by separate players. Publisher Warner Bros and developer Rocksteady Studios have been adamant about saying B:AC will be a solo experience, but they could just be saving more details for later.
What We’ll Probably Find Out: What other characters will show up. Along with the feline femme fatale, the presence of the Riddler and the Penguin have also been outed. It’s a fair bet that even more of Batman’s rogues gallery will show up, but fans everywhere–myself included–are really hoping for some Bat-allies to drop in and help the Darknight Detective out.