For the majority of its duration, Microsoft’s E3 conference was serviceable, but didn’t blow anyone’s mind. It was great to see Microsoft reassuring gamers of the sheer plethora of exclusive games that they have coming their way. For a studio that has been criticised in the past for lacking in that type of original content, Microsoft seems to be leading the way when it comes to their own IP’s; not just in quantity, but quality as well.
It’s almost overwhelming to think that the conference didn’t even show off everything Microsoft has to offer. Crackdown is a notable omission (no doubt it will show up at Gamescom). We saw some Xbox-exclusive games we already knew about and we saw some new ones for the first time. All of it was commendable and just when we thought the conference might end, Phil Spencer dropped the bombshell that would ensure Microsoft’s 2016 E3 conference becomes the one to beat. More on that later. For now, let’s delve into the best and worst of Microsoft’s E3 conference.
The Best Bits
Gears of War 4
This year’s conference saw a tonally different demo from last year for The Coalition’s first proper Gears of War game. I preferred the more action-oriented setup than the exposition-fest we saw before. It was also reassuring to see some interesting new weapons that force you to shoot in different ways – a staple for the franchise.
Moreover, the characters – particularly Laura Bailey’s Kait – managed to grow on me in the brief demo. Not to mention, the game looks a heck of a lot better than it did in the recent multiplayer beta. At this point, Xbox Play Anywhere was also announced – a project that allows gamers to play their games with progress shared across Windows 10 and Xbox consoles – Gears of War 4 being one such game. There is also a new Gears of War 4-themed Xbox One Elite controller on the horizon.
Forza Horizon 3
Speaking of horizons, Forza Horizon 3 was more exciting than perhaps many gamers expected it to be. Forza Horizon and its sequel were magnificently refined racing games, yet they were still largely by the numbers and did little to test new innovations in the racing genre. Forza Horizon 3 sees Playground Games dipping their toes into The Crew’s kind of theme. It allows 4-player co-op across different platforms and looks very enjoyable as you simply drive different types of vehicles across the vast expanses of Australia. It will launch on September 27th 2016.
We Happy Few
We Happy Few really dropped a lengthy, intriguing demo right in our laps. While it might have interested a few gamers before, the trailer shown at this year’s conference, and specifically just how unique this game’s story is going to be, probably convinced plenty more. The tone is very disturbing as characters have to take a drug called Joy to prevent them from seeing the horrible world for what it really is. For instance, slaying a rat is actually an innocent piñata game in the world of Joy. Needless to say, it will be very interesting to see where this story and its themes go from here.
Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves will have to do more than just sea battles to warrant the usual video game price tag, but what we saw at E3 was crews teaming up before doing battle against other pirates. It was fun to see the characters drinking rum while other players were taking the game more seriously, and the combat itself looks decent. Think Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag with a much more playful art style.
Dead Rising 4
Dead Rising 4 probably won’t be anything ground-breaking and it looks like more of the same in a post-Dead Rising 3 world, but the trailer still showed off a game filled with festive fun just in time for the game’s release in holiday 2016. One thing’s for sure – this is one game that cannot get delayed because no one will want to play it after Christmas once they’ve got sick of mince pies and family.
And last for the really good parts, Microsoft drastically improved their press conference by delivering an exciting reveal of Project Scorpio to conclude their presentation. It’s the codename for a new super-powered Xbox console to be released in holiday 2017 and it will supposedly provide a massive upgrade over current-gen systems, but the games will work in tandem with all Xbox One consoles.
Scorpio is optimised to work with 4K visuals and virtual reality. It will feature 4K resolution, 6 teraflops of GPU power and will run at 60Hz. Needless to say, it will be a ‘monster’. Regardless, it was also nice to see Spencer and Microsoft reassuring Xbox One gamers that their console will continue to be supported with the same games available on Xbox One S and Scorpio. Spencer spoke of “gaming beyond generations” and I can’t lie, I almost felt a shiver down my spine when he deliver the “no-one gets left behind” line to unanimous applause. Microsoft are back in the console race.
The Worst Bits
Killer Instinct is a game that still somehow manages to get a showing at E3, three years after it came out. The announcement that General RAAM from Gears of War will be appearing in Killer Instinct will probably not matter to anyone except those who happen to enjoy both games. To make this an E3 reveal seemed kind of strange, giving that it could easily have been made for a simple press release.
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV’s demo merely showed one guy fighting a boss, but the boss was performing the same pre-determined routines. These kind of segments are rarely fun to play in video games and less so to watch. Having this demo and Scalebound’s in the same conference also seemed odd considering their similarities. And more than that, there wasn’t even a mention of an Xbox exclusivity/partnership, making the demos inclusion feel a little out of place.
The Division Underground
Again, not really something that felt like it needed a grand E3 reveal, but The Division is getting some new DLC in the form of The Division Underground. It will arrive first on Xbox One later this month. “In DLC Expansion I: Underground, dive into the underbelly of New York with up to three friends to save what remains. Explore the randomly generated mazes of subways, tunnels, and sewers to fight deadly enemies and recover powerful loot. Experience an all-new incursion and find the latest weapons, gear and more,” the expansion’s description reads.
In a post-Street Fighter V world, Tekken 7 needed to come out and show something different. While hardcore fighting game fans might be able to single out everything that makes each game unique, the trailer just didn’t include enough to catch anyone else’s eye. Tekken 7 is out in early 2017 and will feature an all new story mode with cinematics. Microsoft are given away Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for free to Xbox Live Gold members to celebrate.
And lastly, Scalebound falls into the same ball park as Final Fantasy XV. Developer Platinum Games might have a strong pedigree, but simply put, this demo was boring. Again, it merely showed a boss battle. It might have been “the biggest boss battle from Platinum Games” but that wasn’t enough to stop anyone watching it from loosing interest far too quickly. Seriously, check out the trailer to see if you can watch from start to finish without losing concentration.
The Bits in Between
Xbox One S
The Xbox One S is a new, smaller Xbox One console that will start at $299 and act as an entry point for those who want to get into the Xbox brand. Other than that, it seems difficult to understand why the S led off the conference. Current Xbox One owners certainly won’t see reason to buy it, as they’ll likely be saving up for a far more powerful Scorpio. That said, the improvements include:
- It’s 40% smaller
- It’s white
- It comes with 2TB hard drive
- It supports 4K video
- It’ll come with a ‘streamlined’ controller and a vertical stand
ReCore did nothing to really amaze. From what we saw, it looks like a fairly interesting platforming game with multiple robot companions to help you in your jumping-across-huge-gaps pursuit. While a good trailer, we’re still waiting to see an comprehensive gameplay demo for this one.
Patrick Bach turned up on Microsoft’s stage merely to point out that the game will be coming to Xbox Live Gold and EA Access members a week early. October 13th is when they can lay their hands on it whilst everyone else will have to wait until October 21st. Other than that, they wasted time showing the trailer that was leaked and already shown at EA’s conference, so why it showed up again is beyond us.
We were than given a bunch of fairly dry but important system news. Xbox One will be updated to allow players to play background music on their console. There will also be more language support and the personal assistant feature Cortana will be arriving to Xbox One. Clubs is a new feature that will allow you to create communities based on certain games, while Looking for group allows you to specify the type of player you want to play with. Meanwhile, Arena is a new tournament feature that will make games like FIFA more competitive among friends.
Minecraft is ever-present in the gaming world and this time the spokespeople told us about the Minecraft Friendly Update which will allow players to play across iOS, Android, and Windows devices. Meanwhile, Minecraft Realms will allow players to play on each others servers without the greater having to be there. This is also compatible with Oculus. Texture packs will be added to Pocket Edition and Windows 10 as well as add ons that allow you to modify enemies, villages etc. besides other things.
Xbox Design Lab
Xbox Design Lab will allow players to create their own variants of their Xbox One controller with tons of different colours and personalisation options. There will be millions of different choices so that you can design your controller how you like, but no doubt these will still cost a fortune.
Remember Inside? Once again, we were shown a short trailer for Inside, celebrated with the announcement that its predecessor, Limbo, will now become free on Xbox One. We also had another typical ID@Xbox montage. Even Yooka-Laylee popped up in in compilation.
Card games might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the hugely enthusiastic guy from CD Projekt Red, who presented Gwent, made it more bearable. The game was initially part of The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt as a mini game but will now become a standalone game as a result of significant fan demand. The beta will arrive first on Xbox One in September.
State of Decay 2
State of Decay was actually a really good zombie survival horror game. It can be hard to get excited about another zombie survival game anymore, but the trailer for State of Decay 2 seemed to show off more of the same cross-country driving action from the first game. It’s out in 2017.
Halo Wars 2
If you liked the original Halo Wars, you will probably like Halo Wars 2. If not, it doesn’t look like the game will do much to get you on board. You can’t have a Microsoft E3 conference without some Halo presence, but it acted again as a reminder for how many unique IP’s the studio has up its sleeve, and how many of those are in different genres. Overall, Halo Wars 2 gave a respectable showing, but probably didn’t win over anyone that wasn’t already interested. It’s out on February 21st 2017.
Microsoft’s E3 conference for 2016 was definitely one of their better ones. A constant stream of exclusive games kept things ticking along ahead of the big announcement of Project Scorpio. It was refreshing to see Microsoft’s plea to gamers done right, given how big a mess they made of the Xbox One pitch at E3 a few years ago. Given that Sony is reportedly not bringing any new console announcements to their conference at E3, it will be difficult for them to top Microsoft’s effort. Nonetheless, Sony still has plenty of surprises of their own and we won’t have to wait long to find out what they have planned. Stay tuned as we’ll have the roundup for Sony’s press conference shortly after it’s finished.