When one watches a presentation about video games, one does so with the intention of being excited about what’s to come, with grandiose reveals of long-awaited or surprise titles. When I watch a Microsoft presentation, however, it’s usually to see how they’re going to goof on stage, so I can point and laugh when things like “just let it happen” slip in. The games, services, and hardware announcements are something I also hang out for, to be sure, but I’m mostly in it for the gaffs and laughs. This year’s presentation, however, started with a sombre, yet respectful show of support for the victims of the Orlando shooting. It was a minor thing, but it was nice to see a vocal and supportive acknowledgement from an industry rep such as Phil Spencer about something so terrible. Aside from some awkward on-stage performances from people playing in-game demo’s, there also weren’t any gaffs – points to you, Microsoft.
Especially for this guy on the right, who just straight up doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of his style.
Once the presentation began in earnest, Spencer wasted no time in revealing their plans to release the Xbox One S. The console is 40% smaller than the original, appears to be slightly more powerful, and has an integrated power block – something that Sony has managed since the PS1 era. There’ll be a base model with 500GB of storage, but three models will be available with the largest being a 2TB edition. Along with it was announced a new and improved wireless controller, promised to work with all current and future Xbox One consoles so that no one misses out. An interesting sentiment given their later announcement of the Scorpio, but I’ll get to that soon enough. Coalition’s Rod Fergusson then came out with a demonstration for Gears of War 4, and I’ll elaborate more on that in a minute, prefacing it with an announcement I’ve personally been awaiting for some time now: Xbox’s Play Anywhere.
Play Anywhere is a cloud-based service that allows cross-buy and cross-play between PC and Xbox 1 that comes with a bunch of features. Games purchased on PC (Windows 10 only) or XB1 will be playable on both, and your save data will also carry across, including achievements, and allows PC and Xbox players to play together online. This honestly could have gone very badly, as it essentially means there’s no such thing as an exclusive for the Xbox console anymore. Personally, I also see it as a reason to not actually own an Xbox console anymore, and I’m sure there’ll be more than a few die-hard Xbox fans that feel the same way. That band-aid was ripped off pretty quickly, however, and I feel like it was actually spun in the most positive way possible as this really does benefit console owners more than harming them.
Though, like I said, I still predict much crying from hardcore fanboys.
Though it wouldn’t come up until a little ways into the conference that were announced seemed somewhat banal, and as though they should have been standards instead of highlights. That being said, Clubs, Language Region Independence, Cortana, Looking For Grace, there were also some announcements that would get Xbox Live fans, and console users in general fairly psyched. Being a mostly PC-gamer, a lot of the additions to the Xbox live servioup and Arena all seem like excellent feature additions to Live, making it much more appealing for console users. The only thing that I couldn’t help but laugh at was the announcement of Background Music for games – woah there, Microsoft, slow the f*** down. The future is coming, but it shouldn’t come that fast.
What really made the presentation was the flurry of announcements and demonstrations for a bunch of different games that catered to a rather broad audience, really kicking the hype-train into gear. The Gears of War 4 demonstration was where we finally got a decent look at some actual on-stage gameplay of a level from the campaign. It showed off new mechanics used for cover actions, a couple of weapons, and how they can be utilized for more than just the shot-in-the-face action. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The entire audience was clearly captivated, and, I, being something of a long-time Gears fan, was rock hard by the end. It was quickly followed up with the reveal of a GeoW4 skinned Elite controller, one of the most over-priced and unnecessary accessories ever released for console, so… yay? Regardless, this demonstration was absolutely one of the biggest highlights of the event.
That being said, there are still a lot of unanswered questions left by the first three games that better not take a whole other trilogy to answer.
Killer Instinct’s Rukari Austin took to the stage, presenting KI Season 3 and GeoW’s General Raam as a new fighter. (I personally would have gone with Carmine, but whatever.) Forza Horizon 3 was revealed and shown to now be set in Australia, featuring open-world driving, 4-player co-op, and new terrain. I couldn’t help but giggle when a BMW came roaring out of some scrub to leap from a red-dirt ridge and onto the “track.” I know when I go off-roading, I always take my friggin beamer. Given the locale of the game, however, this feels like a missed opportunity for a new direction in the Forza series. The ball was most certainly dropped here, Turn 10; this could have been an insane, car-smashing, no-holds-barred Deathrace type-dealy. We do have that reputation.
A Recore teaser trailer was played, and, although no significant details were given about the game, what was shown looks, in this writer’s opinion, fully f***ing sick. A live demonstration of Final Fantasy XV then ensued, and you could tell it was a live demo because the guy playing was cocking up left, right and centre. Whether what was shown ends up in the final game or not is besides the point (though fighting giant monsters will always tickle my fancy), but god damn that real-time combat looks sweet. It seems like a great update for the direction that the series has been heading in for awhile now, and it’s the first time I’ve been excited for an FF game since X. There was then a brief update about The Division’s upcoming “Underground” expansions, however, there’s a good chance that you may not actually care. There certainly wasn’t enough information to renew my former interest in the game.
Seriously though, Turn 10, I have lots of ideas – get in touch.
Battlefield 1 also made an appearance, which undoubtedly generated enough excitement in the room and online to power the Hype Train right on through to record sales. There was a new trailer made up of “in-game footage,” that may as well have been a cinematic trailer, and some new details were given out. Intuitive destruction, dynamic weather, and a 64-player multiplayer mode were all talked about, but, I’ll be honest, I’m not that thrilled. It might be WWI instead of WWII, but it’s still old-style combat, and, unless it’s Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, that just isn’t my thing. If there’s some true-to-history trench warfare, some of the grittier and less glamorous aspects of the war (press “X” to dysentery), and some questions raised about the morality of war itself, then it will have my attention.
The conference, which lasted an hour and a half, was so completely packed with games information that I would need at least two articles to talk about everything that was shown in full detail. So for the last few major games worth mentioning, I’ll do my best to keep things brief, sweet, and complete with trailers or videos of each. Scalebound: I want to get all up inside Platinum Games’ new giant monster slaying, dragon flying, preppy college kids’ rave. Sea of Theives: Arrrgghh, me harties, I’m going to plunder your booty with me fellow dastardly scallywags as soon as this is released… Then betray them all almost immediately. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game that will give Hearthstone a run for its money, and make Elder Scrolls Legends look like a sad joke.Minecraft: Good lord, Microsoft, we already know about Minecraft, stop treating textur packs as these amazing new things, and the AR integration from last year was way more exciting than your Oculus integration this ye–WAIT WAS THAT JOHN CARMACK!?
Ugh, yes, it was. Come on, John, you started id Software man… How the mighty have fallen…
Dead Rising 4: Frank is back and sick of these zombies’ shit, and it looks AWESOME. Halo Wars 2: I think it looks like it could be a lot of fun, and I just know that Callum is excited for it*. State of Decay 2: The first game was undoubtedly a mess, but it was an enjoyable mess that made me question my own sanity, and the sequel looks to be promising much the same for better or worse. Tekken 7: Started out looking like Street FighterXTekken, and then broke my god damn heart – still looks pretty great though. We Happy Few: Jesus jumping-jack Christ, this looks absolutely terrifying, and I cannot wait to get down with what they’ve got going on. At one point, they even had a literal montage of indie games – some known, some unknown, all very cool-looking – that would get the blood pumping of even the biggest cynicist.
There was a huge amount to take in, and it felt like it was leading up to something big, something unexpected and new, and in a way it was. The conference was ended with the reveal of Project Scorpio, a new edition of the Xbox One that will feature a massive increase in power (for consoles) and the ability to play games at 4K. Oh, and it’ll also be releasing next year. People in the audience seemed excited, but I thought this to be odd, both as a choice in console release, and as a way to end the conference. With the XB1S releasing later this year, and the Scorpio releasing the next, it feels like MS are dipping their toe into the pool of mobile device release schedules. Not to mention, a final announcement for a video game conference should be something grandiose, the confirmation of a long awaited title, perhaps, or the announcement of something entirely new. Instead, this is a console that not everyone is going to be able to afford, something everyone may not even want, and could very well cause a split in MS’ playerbase.
Seriously, at this point why not just buy a PC?
This was so close to being a (sort of) perfect conference, Microsoft. There were a tonne of game announcements, demos, and features that ran almost entirely back-to-back, and had everyone psyched from the start. You successfully navigated your way through the potentially damaging idea of Xbox’s Play Anywhere and managed to make it sound like the truly positive idea that it is. The Xbox Live features might be things that have been available for, like, ever, on PC, but those are some genuinely great additions to your online service. If only you hadn’t ended things on a totally baffling note with a console that, to be perfectly honest, seems like a watered down PC. You get a B+ guys, but don’t worry – at least you didn’t say anything sexist or creepy this time.
*Disclaimer: Callum might not, in fact, be excited, at all, and may now be actively hunting me for this comment.