Microsoft- Monday June 13th, 9:30 AM PST
Monday the 13th marks the main event for the conference section of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo. As always Microsoft took the stage first in the morning to get everything kicked off. The hope is that Microsoft will start the show with a bang every year, and while they might not live up those expectations every year, Microsoft most certainly did with this conference. They featured a show packed full of games, reveals, and most importantly gameplay demos live on stage. There was so much content I won’t be able to touch on all of here in this short(ish) write up, so I will have to settle on the big deals.
Microsoft opened their conference with a bang, debuting the oft-rumored Xbox One Slim console. The smaller, lighter, and apparently more powerful console is great looking, and features both 4k video playback, and High Dynamic Range contrast upgrades to get that little bit extra juice out of the console’s graphics. The console is slated for release in August, and will retail for $299. On top of the new slim console reveal, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer touched on a major new feature coming to Xbox One and PC in the fall; Xbox Play Anywhere. Xbox Play Anywhere is a new service that allows those who purchase a compatible game on Xbox One or PC, to receive that game on the other platform. Additionally, Play Anywhere allows gamers to save their progress over Xbox Live, and transfer it to their PC to game on the go, without losing their place in the game. This is a fantastic feature, and while not as glamorous as the backwards compatibility that was announced last year, it will be extremely useful for thousands of people over the next few years.
The first major gameplay section of the conference focused on Microsoft’s biggest holiday game of 2016; Gears of War 4. Gears looks incredible, and while this wasn’t the first gameplay section shown to the world about the game, it did show off the cooperative campaign for the first time. Last year’s Halo 5 was generally a bit of a disappointment in terms of single player, and I think for Microsoft in terms of sales as well. A strong launch from Gears 4 has the potential to catapult the series past its bigger brother and into the spotlight as Microsoft’s premiere 1st party franchise. The co-op campaign reveal, also included the reveal of a brand new Gears themed Xbox One elite controller. Gears will be a massive hit this fall, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Forza is the best game series in racing, full stop. That crown has been won over the past few years by the continually stellar main Forza series, and the critical darling spinoff series Forza Horizon. The next entry franchise Forza Horizon 3 was announced next. The reveal not only showcased a cinematic trailer, but gave us a live gameplay demo of four people seamlessly jumping into a race together from separate games. The Forza Horizon games are truly fun, and the next game looks to be a gorgeous continuation of the success Microsoft has found in the series. Forza Horizon 3 releases in September of this year.
After Forza’s big reveal Microsoft reveal a new gameplay trailer for their upcoming game ReCore. ReCore is perhaps most notable because legendary developer Keiji Inafune has been linked to the project as a major developer. ReCore looks to be an interesting addition to Microsoft’s proprietary games lineup in the near future, and I will be excited to see the first reviews of the game when it releases on September 13th of this year.
Next, Square Enix took the stage to show off a gameplay trailer for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, due out in September. This was certainly one of the low points of the conference, not because Final Fantasy XV isn’t a highly anticipated game, or because it looks bad, but because the live gameplay showed at the conference was exceedingly boring. For a game that will most likely take the average player somewhere between 50 and 100 hours to complete, there had to have been a better slice of gameplay to show on the biggest stage in gaming. While Final Fantasy has never really been my cup of tea, I am looking forward to seeing more of the game in action, and in seeing the reviews come the fall. After Final Fantasy Microsoft briefly touched on a few new features coming to Xbox Live soon, including Clubs, Microsoft’s answer to Playstation’s Communities feature. They also touched on new fully customizable controllers that can be built and ordered from the Microsoft store, an incredibly cool feature that I may have to make use of in the near future.
ID@Xbox was up next, and immediately launched into the announcement that the creator’s of Limbo next game, Inside, is slated for release in just a couple weeks. Limbo was a platforming classic, and Inside looks to be great as well, I can’t wait. After Inside, ID@Xbox featured a live gameplay demo of We Happy Few, an extremely interesting game that was Kickstarted years ago, and is finally on the home stretch towards release. As a massive fan of the Bioshock series, We Happy Few looks to be right up my alley, as what may end up being a budget British Bioshock. I am excited to see more of the game, and I think it could end up being one of the best indie games of the year, and maybe even a holdover until the next entry in the Bioshock franchise. After ID@Xbox there was a segment for both the official announcement of CD Projekt Red’s next game, no not Cyberpunk 2077, but Gwent, an official full game version of The Witcher 3‘s massively successful in-game card game. Microsoft also spent some time on Tekken 7 releasing some time in 2017. Eh.
Dead Rising 4 was a major game reveal next. The Dead Rising series has generally been pretty good, and pretty fun. Allowing players a crazy sandbox world to kill zombies in the most creative ways possible. What is interesting about this reveal is the nature of its non-exclusivity. While Dead Rising 3 was an Xbox One console exclusive, the next game in the series very obviously is not. Perhaps the console exclusivity of the last game was not worth it? Regardless, I am looking forward to the next game in the series.
Microsoft’s Platinum Games’ system exclusive, Scalebound, was next. Scalebound has always been a bit of an unknown entity for me. It inhabits much of the same space in my mind as Final Fantasy XV. I don’t necessarily care, but I would like to be surprised by a great game when it releases next year. It seems that Platinum has lost a bit of its luster recently. It seems as though too many projects at the same time have stretched Platinum Games too thin. Hopefully Scalebound will break that trend rather than reinforce it further.
Rare was brought on stage next to discuss their new game Sea of Thieves. As one of the most famous, and storied developers of all time there is quite a bit of excitement for this next game. However the gameplay reveal of Sea of Thieves was lacking. The concept of controlling a pirate ship with friends and trying to destroy other’s ships is cool, until you realize that you need a full complement of friends to have fun. Very, very few people have that kind of luxury. Games that fully rely on a large number of friends to have fun are destined to be relegated to the discount bin sooner rather than later. Sea of Thieves could be Evolve 2.0. Also can we please, please, please stop using the cringey let’s play voiceovers to demo multiplayer games, please?
Microsoft then let us finally know about Undead Labs next game, State of Decay 2. State of Decay was a critical, and commercial success when it was released a few years ago, so it is encouraging to see what a bigger, better game in the series could do.
From there Microsoft went to Halo Wars 2. HW2 is the sequel to a truly fun strategy game, Halo Wars, and Ensemble Studios final game. HW2 is slated for release this year, and more interestingly the game’s beta begins today, and lasts through June 20th. The next Halo Wars is a game I am excited about, I am especially excited to play the game on PC. It is hard for me to imagine this game being anything less than great, especially because it is being made by Creative Assembly, the great minds behind the Total War series.
Microsoft ended the conference with the biggest announcement of the show, and certainly the biggest announcement of the expo so far; Project Scorpio. Project Scorpio is the next generation of the Xbox One console. Slated to be, as they say, “the most powerful console ever”, Project Scorpio is certainly a shot across the bow at the confirmed Playstation upgrade on the horizon, the NEO. In this sizzle reel for the system, Microsoft reiterated on native 4k gaming capabilities, not just 4k video playback. Most gaming PCs struggle to pull 4k gaming off right now, and to hold a stable framerate in most modern games at 4k resolution without your graphics card spontaneously combusting, requires an investment of at least $1500. My question to Microsoft is how they managed to get native 4k into the presumably small size of the system (if they actually really pulled it off at all), and how they expect to do it for anything less than $1000. People won’t buy a console for a grand, and they won’t for more than $600 to $700. So can Microsoft find a way to make true 4k console gaming a reality for $600? If they can, they undoubtedly have a winner on their hands. Not only that, the apparent specs for the Scorpio seems to have scared Sony and the NEO away from E3. It was a major surprise last week when Sony announced that the NEO would not be at their E3 conference. To me this seems to indicate that Sony might have been taken aback by the leaked specs of the Scorpio. They might have realized that their system is woefully lacking in comparison, and that the graphical edge they had with the Playstation 4 may no longer matter. On top of that it seems to me that Microsoft is now playing a new game. The Scorpio looks to be more of an entirely new console than an iteration on the Xbox One. Could that be a sign that Microsoft is signaling their defeat this generation, so that they can go on the offensive once again, and reclaim the throne of console dominance from Sony with the Scorpio? If it were me, that is what I would do. The Xbox One is a fine console that has sold very well in its first three years on the market, but it was destined to play second fiddle from the second that it was announced in that debacle of a conference in May, 2013. They had a poor message, tv and a side of games and Playstation had a strong one, its cheaper, and it is focused on games. That is all it took for Sony to jump out to a lead that Microsoft could never hope to overcome. Scorpio is the sign that Microsoft wants that chapter to end, and it starts holiday 2017.
Overall, I thought the Microsoft conference was by far the strongest of the three so far. Though it was the longest, it had a fantastic pace that did not drag, or linger almost at all. It featured a huge lineup of games, reveals, and more importantly live gameplay demos. Microsoft created a nearly perfect conference from start to finish, and I cannot wait to see what else is in store from them next year.