By Steven Petite
Heading into E3, Microsoft was a publisher that seemed to be losing its identity. Perhaps this has been amplified by the growing consensus that, not three years into the current console lifecycle, the Xbox One has already “lost” to the PlayStation 4. Sony’s console is more powerful and user friendly and equipped with a wider array of exclusive titles. The bottom line is that the PlayStation 4 is just a better console, and as a longtime Xbox gamer, I think this statement is almost undeniable.
So, then, what did Microsoft do?
In short, they showcased a dizzying amount of new content and features which more than double-downed on their belief that the Xbox One brand can be the pinnacle of modern gaming. They opened with Gears of War 4 which, unsurprisingly, looks as impressive as ever. Following up, they revealed the beautiful open world of Forza Horizon 3, and showed off some of the characters and abilities in the soon-to-be-released ReCore. They talked Killer Instinct Season 3, and demonstrated some new features in Minecraft.
Also, oddly, they replayed the Battlefield 1 trailer that was shown at yesterday’s EA Play event, and spent a few minutes inside Final Fantasy XV. The demo in the form of a boss battle only further confirmed my fears on FFXV from the first two playable demos. If the final product is anything like the gameplay shown thus far, the game is a chaotic mess. I hope I’m proven wrong come September, though.
Other game announcements included: the first major expansion for The Division, Gwent (The Witcher card battling game), Dead Rising 4, Tekken 7, and State of Decay 2. There was also new information on Platinum Games’ Scalebound, Rare’s Sea of Thieves, and Halo Wars 2.
The most exciting trailer was for We Happy Few from Compulsion Games. Set in an alternate 1960s filled with grotesques and mind-altering substances, it bears atmospheric resemblance to Bioshock and Dishonored. This directly followed the segment about ID@Xbox, the division devoted to cultivating unique independent titles from small publishers, where they announced that over 1,000 titles are currently in development for Xbox One and Windows.
By the end of the conference it all came back to the Xbox One brand. In early August, the Xbox One S will hit stores. A slimmed down version of the Xbox One sporting a sleek white finish and three storage capacities (500GB, 1TB, 2TB) will start at $299. The only major internal overhaul is that it will support 4K video output, but really, at this point it isn’t a substantial development. It does provide another special benefit externally. For the first time, an Xbox will have an internal power supply eliminating the power brick monstrosities.
Possibly the most intriguing bits of the Microsoft conference were the small tweaks and features for the Xbox One operating system and platform. The Windows 10 digital assistant, Cortana, is making its way to Xbox One later this summer. New Xbox Live features are incoming as well. “Arena” is a competitive game hub for finding players with similar skill sets and tournaments. “Clubs” is basically a new form of clans where players can group up and conquer cooperative missions together. Also, Microsoft is reintroducing background music into games so that gamers can listen to personal playlists while enjoying their favorite games.
A point of emphasis for the conference was on Xbox Anywhere, an integration system for Xbox One and Windows 10. Games like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 can be played on Xbox One and Windows 10, a variation of cross-buy that Sony has popularized with PS4, PS3, and Vita titles.
In the end, though, Microsoft nodded to the future. The rumored “Project Scorpio” was confirmed for a 2017 release date, and it will reportedly be the most powerful console on the market capable of optimizing VR titles and reaching resolutions and pixel counts on par with gaming PCs.
There was a lot of technical jargon about teraflops and GPUs that are meaningless to the average gamer. The important thing to takeaway is that Microsoft is building for the future while acknowledging the past and present. They say that every game, peripheral and feature for the Xbox One brand will be available on Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio, and they did a good job of delivering that sentiment to viewers.
I was left feeling cautiously optimistic about the direction of the Xbox One brand. PC integration, VR support, and hardware upgrades are signs that Microsoft is paying attention to the current and emerging games climate, and their position in the trenches. Fingers crossed!