This was, perhaps, one of the strongest conferences I’ve seen from Microsoft in several years. E3 2017 was rather disappointing as Microsoft focused more on the launch of their new powerhouse console, the Xbox One X, than games - you know, the very thing gamers really want to see. New hardware is fun, but the nitty gritty technical overview is something few console gamers care about. And if they did, they’re likely not a console gamer, but a PC gamer. All of that comes secondary to games, which is something Sony and Nintendo have excelled at recently. This time around, Microsoft got it right.
The stage was set as we were treated to a teaser trailer for Halo: Infinite. Perhaps, the most engrossing aspect of the trailer was the strong sense of the first in the popular series, Halo: Combat Evolved, that this trailer evoked. Standing on the very halo where it all began and seeing the ring extend beyond the skyline was iconic imagery alongside the warthog racing across familiar open fields and scenery all founded on an entirely new engine. The lush and lively landscapes were gorgeous and the trailer most certainly excited many fans.
Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, hosted the entirety of the show and endeavored to acknowledge and rectify the major problem with the Xbox platform which is the lack of solid first-party titles aside from the usual lineup like Halo, Gears of War, Forza, etc. When stacked against Nintendo and Sony, Microsoft’s first-party library hardly compares in quality and quantity. Aside from a litany of exclusive indie titles such as the colorful Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a platforming adventure that takes place in an imaginative and artistic world that follows a guardian spirit named Ori, Microsoft made the incredible announcement that it acquired five new studios within the Microsoft Studios family: The Initiative, Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, and Compulsion games (the studio behind We Happy Few). The message was plain as day. Microsoft’s exclusivity issue is not going to be solved overnight, but rest assured, they are heavily at work on the issue and are hoping to be up to speed in the first-party department as the next generation falls upon us in a couple years.
Many third-party titles took the spotlight to showcase world premieres on Xbox One hardware. Bethesda’s Todd Howard appeared on stage to announce that Fallout 4 would be hitting Gamepass and preview the trailer for Fallout 76, a prequel to all of the other games focused on Vault 76. Howard noted that Fallout 76 will be four times larger than Fallout 4 and takes place in the hills of West Virgina. The trailer was eagerly anticipated as Bethesda had already teased Fallout 76 in the days leading up to E3, and Microsoft received the honor of showing the title on its stage.
A handful of multi-platform games made it to Microsoft’s show, some with world premieres. For starters, Neir: Automata is no longer a PlayStation exclusive as it is set to hit Xbox One later this month which was a move that had already been rumored prior to the conference. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was, expectedly, shown at Microsoft’s conference with an all new trailer and is set to hit shelves on September 14th. Thanks to Walmart, we were fairly certain a new Just Cause game was headed our way, and now that is confirmed. A fun trailer for Just Cause 4 premiered during this show and is about what one would expect from a Just Cause game. Fans of the franchise will no doubt be excited so be sure to check out the trailer. Then, of course, a game I am thoroughly looking forward to, Metro Exodus, showed off more of its world in a pretty trailer. Clearly Artyom will be venturing further out into the world beyond the metro. Fans of the series know that the majority of the last two games were spent underground within the metro system due to the nuclear fallout, and any travel above ground was met with oxygen and radiation limitations making those portions of the game limited themselves. The word ‘exodus’ within the title of the game signifies some sort of migration where being above ground seems much more necessary. The world, while still desolate, is also beautifully rendered in its own way. And finally, Square Enix debuted a new title that takes place within the Life is Strange universe, titled The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. This game is one that will certainly draw the imaginative child out of all of us as it centers around a young boy who embraces his creativity and imagination in order to embark on adventures in other worlds. Most of us ran around with capes as children pretending to be superheroes. This game taps into that exciting part of childhood that many of us only wish we could have back. I’m excited to see more from this game. And finally, Dark Souls developer, From Software, debuted it’s newest title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which features as an undead warrior who must learn more about his nature as one who cannot die. This announcement makes the likelihood of a Bloodborne sequel at this conference unlikely, but this doesn’t phase me in the slightest as Sekiro’s epic trailer looks phenomenal.
In a series first, Kingdom Hearts 3 will be the first of the franchise to be available on the Xbox platform. Phil Spencer introduced an all new video clip from the heavily anticipated title that was just announced to launch on January 29th, 2019. A first look was given at some of the other Disney worlds that Sora will be able to venture into including Frozen, Wreck-it-Ralph, Monsters Inc., Tangled, and many more. I was ecstatic to see Pixar properties really take hold of the franchise with the original trailer debut showcasing Toy Story as a featured world within the game. So, this only fueled my anticipation for this long-awaited sequel.
The audience was treated to another rousing trailer for Crackdown 3 narrated and, of course, starring the inimitable Terry Crews. Nearly the entire trailer was filled with Terry Crews yelling the narration and displaying a lot of the action one would expect from a new entry in this series.
Forza Horizon 4 was given the spotlight. Ralph Fulton from Playground Games introduced the game and discussed the details of the its setting as it played out on screen. The game takes place in historic Britain in 60 FPS glory. It’s a stunningly beautiful game which fully realizes that country side through ever-changing seasons. In fact, Fulton made sure to note how the change in seasons affects the way the game plays. For instance, lakes freeze in the world in the winter with different precipitation conditions hitting the player HUD. Socially interacting in this game is made easier through quick conversation options in game as the player encounters other drivers. I’ve never been much of a racing fan outside of Mario Kart but this showcase certainly peaked my attention.
There was no shortage of Gears of War content at this conference. Three Gears of War titles were announced, two of which are mobile offerings. Gears of War Pop! is a partnership with Funko to bring the Gears series to a Funko Pop! aesthetic. Additionally, Gears Tactics is a new prequel turn-based strategy title that will certainly provide an alternate way to play in the Gears universe. Finally, the big one, Gears of War 5, was announced and accompanied with a story trailer. I’ll refrain from discussing details of this story-based trailer so fans can enjoy it themselves. But needless to say, it’s just another exciting highlight of the Microsoft conference.
The Division 2 also showed its face during this press conference. The game takes place in Washington D.C. as the survivors of the plague are on the precipice of a new civil war. The focus of the Division’s agents are going to be to stave off this impending conflict. Gameplay was shown as we followed four players through overgrown portions of the city that almost looked reminiscent of a forest or jungle. The combat is the same combat Division players are familiar with, but with an all new setting. The game looks fantastic, although the staged conversation between the players was utterly hokey as always. I felt the same way during the presentation for the first Division title. Players simply don’t interact with each in this way. But I get it, Ubisoft has a job to do and that is to carry us through a few stages of the product. It looks great, Ubisoft! I can’t wait.
A major announcement unexpectedly occurred during Microsoft’s conference. While I fully expected/hoped to see a Devil May Cry 5 announcement, I didn’t expect Microsoft to have the honor. As rumored, Devil May Cry 5 is, in fact, a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 effectively ignoring the rebooted Ninja Theory title before it. Nero is back, but this time he’s missing something. The Devil Bringer, Nero’s hellish demon arm that we came to know intimately from Devil May Cry 4 is gone and replaced with something a bit more robotic. In the trailer, it’s even shown in a brief scene where his arm was clearly severed by something unseen. With some years between DMC4 and DMC5, Nero is apparently seeking out Dante after what looks to be a colossal demonic attack. The scale probably warrants Dante’s assistance. The tail end of the trailer treated us to a brief snippet of Dante in his pre-reboot, former glory but with a bit more grit to his look. Stay tuned as I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming months. The game is set for a Spring 2019 release.
Dying Light 2 was also shown at this conference. See what I mean? This conference was long, but intense! Dying Light was an excellent first person combat/parkour style game by Techland where the player was dropped into a city overrun by a zombie virus. The catch, however, is that after dark, many zombies become infinitely more terrifying as they’re strength and speed multiplies drastically. I tried it out on a whim knowing very little about it which is unusual for me. But, I was extremely impressed with the unique and addicting spin on the zombie theme. The interesting factor in the newest title involves choice. The developer stressed that choices have consequences, but it doesn’t stop at just results. The choices also shape how you play the game. One choice made at the beginning can set the player on a path that has to be followed for the rest of the story. This was displayed with an example within the conference, but I won’t get into the details here. Check out the footage for yourself to see what I’m talking about.
The conference wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t part with something major for fans to sink their teeth into. That very thing came in the form of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. The heavily anticipated title is every Philip K. Dick fan’s wet dream. The first thing that was apparent by the aesthetic of this title versus the studio’s last epic jaunt, The Witcher 3, is the colors. Color was vibrant as the game fully embraces the neon glow of what we come to know from cyberpunk-themed fiction like Bladerunner or even the latest Netflix series Altered Carbon. The trailer was purely cinematic as no gameplay was shown. Additionally, there was no indication yet on when we might own this title for ourselves. Suffice it say, Cyberpunk 2077 is at least a year or more away. However, for the first official display of what we’re in for, this trailer was thrilling and fans of the studio will certainly be satiated.
This conference was a lengthy one. There was much more of note that I didn’t cover here just to keep my own summary from dragging on. However, I hit the major highlights. There were mentions of changes to Gamepass involving some future titles such as Forza Horizon 4 being available through Gamepass on launch day. Additionally, there were several indie titles that made an appearance as well. But despite the length of the conference, I was genuinely impressed. This comes from a loyal Sony PlayStation gamer. I’m not ready to entirely jump ship on my console of choice by any means, but Microsoft is starting to right the ship that they’ve steered into troubled waters since the start of this console generation. Convincing Xbox owners that in-house studios were acquired and working on the kind of lineup that could one day rival its competitors was absolutely a refreshing message regarding the future of the platform. Kudos to Microsoft for a well-executed E3 conference!