With Sony guarding their crimson egg in the form of the new Playstation console, Microsoft had a chance to grab the spotlight and claim the eyes of fans and journalists alike on Sunday 9th with a relatively unopposed spot at E3. Would they start to bear fruit from their numerous announced studio partnerships? How about that new console? New streaming service? A new Fable or Halo?
Most of those questions were answered, but there weren’t many first party takings for Xbox fans this year – with the big guns being polished for 2020, we hope. No live gameplay, no real surprises. But Microsoft has clearly placed their bet on the future of the industry, by pushing for more streaming, more Gamepass support and a teaser for the new console, which aims to be cross-platform.
Microsoft started brightly with what Phil Spencer claimed was the largest showcase of games ever at E3; 60 announced games, 14 of which would be first party.
Nudging our memories back to last year, two of Microsoft’s new studio partners stepped up first to show their wares. There was an extended story trailer for Obsidian’s space-RPG, The Outer Worlds, and British studio Ninja Theory revealed their take on the multi-player hero-FPS in the form of Bleeding Edge – a bloody and cartoony shooter that will almost certainly aim for the Overwatch or Overwatch-adjacent crowd.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is still very beautiful to look at, after another trailer was released that debuted more of the platforming gameplay and combat for early next year’s release. But this only seemed to highlight that there seems to be an aggressive but perhaps helpful campaign to deter me from playing numerous announced games this year, with a continued emphasis on showing front and centre the massive spiders with glowing eyes – thanks to those developers for doing this.
Microsoft showed off Minecraft Dungeons, a top down RPG game that borrows from some of the mechanics of the vanilla game. Still no update on the Super Duper Graphics pack though – a let down.
We were then treated to another quick trailer for the promising Star Wars: Fallen Order, created by Respawn Entertainment. Massive pus shooting spiders aside (again, thanks), this is probably EA’s best shot at recovering their Star Wars track record. It has some interesting game influences on its sleeve; some Shadow of the Colossus-style climbing of AT-ATs, Sekiro-esque dismemberment and cautious calculation combat – I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how this shapes up.
We’ve got a Blair Witch game coming down the pipe for those that are looking for their Outlast itch, and there is a cutesy but spiritual side scroller in the form of Spiritfarer.
But probably the highlight of this show was sandwiched between them. Another CGI trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 is very cool, but did you ask for Keanu Reeves?? Here you go! And by the way, he’s going to tell us the release date is April 16th 2020 too – in his very unique Keanu delivery. Very cool, but a little worrying that we haven’t been given any more gameplay slices since their 40 minute livestream last year. Maybe more will be revealed at Gamescom or sometime soon post-E3?
Looking at plenty of big charts telling them that the side-scrollers are doing quite well, Microsoft has dusted off Battletoads for an HD, 3 player iteration. Admittedly, the gameplay looms quite crisp and colourful, and as long as they keep on pulling out dead Rare Games from their bag (read: please make another Kameo and another Banjo & Kazooie), I am happy with what they are doing here.
Again Microsoft reaffirmed their commitment to Independent games via their ID@Xbox programme, with a string of games that will all launch to Xbox Gamepass.
Even better, they have expanded their coverage to allow PC users to join in. Creatively called Xbox Gamepass for PC, they have opened up 100 games to be played with mouse and keyboard. For a little extra, you can have the ultimate package, an attempt to unify PC and Xbox Gamepasses under one roof, coupled with Gold membership – a solid deal.
To add more fuel to the Microsoft engine, they announced their partnership with Double Fine games, featuring a pretty eager to please Tim Schafer, promising to develop Excel if it meant being a team player. Well, I guess Psychonauts 2 will do. It was a game in development for a few years now due to crowdfunding and the new trailer is showing that it’s starting to come into shape; featuring what looks like molar hopping gameplay inside the mind of another character and an ominous manipulator terrorising the plot.
Anna Purina’s 12 Minutes seems to be an interesting Groundhog thriller, showcasing a relationship from different angles and outcomes, playing in a God like perspective. There wasn’t much shown but the concept is certainly worth keeping an eye on for.
Like all inevitable things, Microsoft’s conference would eventually serve us more Gears of War content. Nothing much was shown of the upcoming Gears 5 that is being released in September, but there was a trailer for their new Escape mode. It looks like a dash to the exit through waves of enemies and killer fog – tested out (but not seen) by three wrestlers that were totally not trapped under duress beneath the stage. If you pre-order the game, you also get to face off against the Terminator – yes, that one.
To offset this extreme level of testosterone, they also showed a trailer of the Disneyfied Gears game, featuring pop figures. Nothing is cuter than luring the enemy into picking up a cute stuffed kitten..only to reveal that it has a grenade attached to the tail. The gameplay looks optimised more to a mobile-friendly crowd and to be honest, I’m not really interested in this, at all. But whatever floats your boat.
With plenty of games being teased and third party games being flaunted, Microsoft also wanted to show their commitment to the ones that are already released. They have more cars coming down the pipe for Forza Horizon 4, with the added whimsy of doing so in a Lego world. And there was also a brief story trailer for the new expansion of State of Decay: Heartland.
Do you want heartbreak AND broken controllers? Miyazaki and George RR Martin managed to tease their new trailer for Elden Ring, an assumedly fantasy but definitely hard as nails game. Nothing much else is known of this game, but more details will be revealed in time.
The final send-off of the conference was for the awaited Project Scarlett – a console supposedly four times powerful than the best in class Xbox, and more elevator loading-screen resistant. It packs the punch to run 8K resolutions, 120 frames per seconds (if we also develop the ability to blink faster) and the open-ended tease of cross platforming with other players. To seal the deal, they revealed Halo Infinity, the launch title for Christmas 2020; keeping its hand close to its chest, it showed a short story about an isolated soldier on his malfunctioning ship, who almost clatters a floating Master Chief popsicle in space – maybe this is a buddy-cop shooter? I doubt it.
All in all, this conference had a slightly off feeling. There is plenty to look forward to long term, but nothing much to satiate fans in the short term. Plenty of games being developed behind the scenes, but there seems to be a sense of caution now regarding jumping the gun and revealing something that might take years to get to gamer’s hands. Microsoft is slowly but surely moving the dial away from discs and to the cloud – for better or worse – and with a high-powered processor on the new console, they are positioning themselves to go head to head with Google Stadia in the streaming space. The only problem is, what will you be playing on the Xbox in the meantime? Most of the best (and for the most part, only) first party offerings will be found somewhere else, and nothing totally new is likely to come out of nowhere. The best thing in Microsoft’s corner is that the best third party games will look best on the Xbox One X – I guess.
What Microsoft has wisely done is commit themselves early to game streaming packages and make it easier for gamers to get their hands on up and coming games. By pushing even further in that direction, they have kept the metre ticking while they wait the arrival of Scarlett next year.