Microsoft Leans Heavy on Games at E3 2016
Also, a lot of new hardware announcements.
I think it’s safe to say that the unveiling of the Xbox One a few years ago was one of the most tone-deaf, poorly received debuts of a video game console since, well, Sony commented that people would get a second job to afford their $599 PlayStation 3 all those years ago. Since then, Microsoft has been doing everything in its power to right those wrongs and bring their console up to the user base that the PS4 currently enjoys. This E3 continues that trend and, while there were very few surprises, the Microsoft press conference put the emphasis squarely on exclusive games and community.
The presser started off strong, with the first unfettered look at the Xbox One S, which is surely a nod to the redesigned controller that replaced the good old “Duke” on the original Xbox. The console is 40% smaller than the launch system, but it should be noted that this smaller profile is even more impressive when you consider that the massive power brick is now built into the machine. This alone could tempt many a hardcore Xbox fan to update their hardware and eliminate the behemoth that is the launch Xbox One from their entertainment centers. The updated Xbox also has a larger hard drive, supports HDR (a potentially huge feature that was oddly glossed over), and plays 4K blu ray discs. The console starts at $299, which puts it at a hundred dollars less than most 4K blu ray players, and will be available this August.
Next up was a lengthy game play demo of Gears of War 4, which set the tone for the rest of the press conference. Whereas EA and Bethesda seemed content to show mostly game trailers and little in-game footage at their Sunday events, Microsoft went hard on actual game demos. The Gears of War 4 demo showed off some impressive lighting and atmosphere effects during a brutal storm. It was similar to what was shown last year, but this time around there was much more emphasis placed on the new squad and weapons. One new weapon in particular brought to mind Dead Space, thanks to a brutal sawblade launcher that seemed to be more of a tool that was repurposed as an offensive item. Cover can now be destroyed, adding a new layer of tactics to the tried and true Gear formula. Gears of War 4 launches on October 11.
Forza Horizon 3 took the stage, with an emphasis on simply getting together with friends and having a good time. While this may seem like a no brainer with multiplayer games, it should be noted how seamlessly the drop in and out nature of Horizon 3 is. The demo began with four people playing in separate modes, as well as a split between Xbox consoles and Windows 10 PCs. It was a quick and painless affair getting these four players into the same game, and there did not seem to be any apparent pause in the action. This type of ease of play was a big selling point for the press conference as a whole, as Microsoft is pushing cross play between the console and the PC in a huge way. Forza Horizon 3 is due out on September 27.
Recore was shown off in a more substantial way, but unfortunately there was no live game play demonstration. The trailer shown did give a better look at the moment to moment action, and is certainly a unique exclusive in the Xbox lineup.
Final Fantasy XV was shown in playable form for the first time on the Xbox One. The live game play was that of an epic battle with a Titan, not unlike something you would expect to see in a God of War or Devil May Cry game. However, the demo itself did not really show off much in the way of mechanics, as the crux of the demo seemed to be avoiding the Titan’s attacks while waiting for a button prompt. Final Fantasy XV launches on September 30.
Continuing with the theme of cross play and community, Microsoft took some time out to talk about the improvements on the way to Xbox Live, including “Looking for Group” mode, which allows players to “advertise” games they are looking to play in multiplayer and get grouped together. This could be a huge help for players that are invested in less popular multiplayer games such as Evolve. Microsoft is also dipping its toes into the E Sports realm thanks to Arena, a way for publishers to host online tournaments through Live in a more streamlined way.
Next up was the now yearly indie showcase, but there were a lot of new and impressive games on offer here, with very little being shown for a second time. More of Cuphead and Below were shown, but there were some interesting new titles ranging from twitch shooters to turn-based RPGs and even an isometric game that was reminiscent of the older Diablo games.
The indie game that will likely have most people talking about though is We Happy Few, a trippy-looking first person adventure game that has a lot of aesthetic similarities with BioShock. The brief demo depicted a world where people constantly take “Joy”, a medication designed to keep them happy and care free. Naturally, things are not what they appear to be, and players will be able to unravel the mystery as an Xbox Game Preview (read: Early Access) title in July.
CD Projekt Red came out to show off Gwent, a stand-alone card game based on the popular diversion from last year’s The Witcher 3. Between Blizzard’s Hearthstone and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Legends, the digital card game market is getting crowded quickly. Gwent showed off some flashy effects for your typical card game, and is due out in September.
Two high profile Japanese developers got some serious stage time, with Bandai Namco showing off a new story mode for the upcoming Tekken 7. The demo showed a battle between Street Fighter guest character Akuma and Tekken mainstay Heihachi, which seamlessly blended cinematics and game play together. Think the Mortal Kombat story mode with a dash of Asura’s Wrath and you have a good idea of what Tekken 7’s story style is like. Platinum was ready to show a co-op game play demo of Scalebound, which was like a fusion of the signature Platinum Games flashy style with the teamwork of Capcom’s popular Monster Hunter series. The sense of scale was impressive, and Microsoft is pushing Scalebound as one of their tent pole 2017 releases.
Rare returns to game development with Sea of Thieves, a game that was only teased last year. This time, they had a demonstration with three groups of four players. According to the presentation, these players were not given any coaching or instructions, and each group had to figure out how to get their ships sailing. Things got heated when the groups converged on one another, with a massive sea battle ensuing. There was no talk on what the goal of the game is, or if it is a multiplayer only affair. With no release date set, there is likely plenty of time for that information to come forward.
This winded down with some sizzle-reel style trailers for Dead Rising 4 and Halo Wars 2. Dead Rising 4 sees the return of fan favorite Frank West from the original game, but clearly borrows some of the vehicle construction seen in the third game. Halo Wars 2 is said to introduce a new type of enemy, and focused a lot on the story setup for the return of the popular Xbox 360 real time strategy game.
Last, but certainly not least, the rumor of the Scorpio console proved to be true. Microsoft is readying a new, more powerful update to the Xbox One, and made a point to mention it as being ready for VR. The presentation for “Project Scorpio” was a series of comments from developers, who seemed excited to have a more powerful version of the Xbox to work with, but it was made clear that, moving forward, the games released for Xbox One would be compatible with all SKUs, and people who recently adopted the console would not be left out in the cold. It is a bold move, and it will be interesting to see how this develops. It may be that the time of console generations is at an end. The new console is slated for holiday 2017.
Even though there was little in the way of big game announcements or surprises, it seems like Microsoft is doing its best to court all types of gamers. With multiple console SKUs available, easy to manage multiplayer sessions, and plenty of single player content, could we finally be far enough from that poor first impression for the Xbox One to bounce back? Only time will tell.
Oh, and did I mention controllers you design yourself? BECAUSE YOU CAN TOTALLY DESIGN YOUR OWN CONTROLLER.