This year at E3 it was no longer about the console war race for Microsoft, but more of a reinvasion that goes beyond console generations. Sales of the Xbox One continue to drag behind the PlayStation 4, but this year’s Xbox E3 conference announced Microsoft’s new direction from the rooftops. This is no longer a race between Xbox and PS4, because Microsoft is going off-road. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Xbox ecosystem.
Microsoft kicked off the conference with a slick trailer with an announcement well all pretty much knew: the Xbox One S is a thing. 40% smaller than the original, 4K video-compatible and at $299 USD, it’s an attractive proposition for those who haven’t picked Microsoft’s console yet come August.
For those who have, however, there’s a little reason to invest in this similar hardware when something much better is dangled in front of us. At the very end of the conference, Microsoft announced its new Xbox console, codename Project Scorpio, due to arrive in the holiday period of 2017. The announcement did two things: it loudly laid down Microsoft’s new vision for a ‘console generation-free’ future, while firing a shot across Sony’s bow by declaring it’s going to be the most powerful console in the future. The days of the Xbox being the technological underdog are numbered.
There was no sense of the new box’s aesthetic, which was a bit of a shame, but the taking heads on screen nonetheless sold us on Microsoft’s vision. If all goes as promoted that is, the Project Scorpio console will support a stronger GPU that can manage 4K resolution gaming, render at 60 Hz and have six teraflops – yes, teraflops were mentioned in a console announcement – of computing capability. It is, Phil Spencer boldly proclaimed, “the most powerful console ever built”.
All Xbox One games will be playable on the original Xbox One, Xbox one S, and Project Scorpio, and all existing Xbox One peripherals would work with all three systems. The goal is that “no-one gets left behind”. In addition to insure that “no-one gets left behind”, Microsoft didn’t hesitate to sell us on Xbox Play Anywhere, a new initiative allowing gamers to play select games on both Windows 10 and Xbox One without having to buy both versions. While Microsoft’s OS was mentioned several times it almost felt like we were watching the Windows 10 show, the messaging was pretty clear: the Xbox One no longer exists in a vacuum. Considering PlayStation 4’s dominance, it cannot afford to exist in a vacuum if Microsoft hopes to seal the gape.
Of course Microsoft wasn’t just about their new programs, consoles, and hardware, they made sure we were left eager, and pleased by the end of the show. Although there weren’t exactly any knock-out blows in Microsoft’s conference, it did have a few good surprises. One of first, the more predictable Gears of War 4 kicked off the conference in a gory, bass-heavy demo the definitely had the fans pleased, meanwhile the Australian landscape in the new Forza Horizon 3 looked stunning. Unlike 2015’s mystique short cinematic trailer of ReCore, this year ReCore was finally showed off more of what the actual game will look like come its release and how the gameplay will be with a new and more elaborated gameplay demo. After a whole year of hiding in the shadows without even a single hint of the game, this announcement surely ends the speculations of whether or not this game was indeed going to be a hit or flop. No official announcement was made on when the game will release, but I’m positive we’ll be seeing more of it sometime in 2017. Dead Rising 4’s Christmas-kissed trailer was a delight, and Rare’s Sea of Thieves proved you can put a bunch of gamers into your E3 demo and make it a natural and charming. Really
Final Fantasy XV seemed more of missed opportunity. Nothing wrong with demonstrating a little gameplay of your newest creation, but showing a feature of cluster of players trying to bring down a giant beast in a flurry of confusing activity probably isn’t the strongest way to reel in your audience. Still, Scalebound in particular continues to intrigue, and it was nice to see more of its ambitious multiplayer in action even if its core gameplay lacked necessary context.
As it began last year, Microsoft stuck with the trend of celebrating weird, cerebral games with Playdead’s inside and Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few. The latter was particularly intriguing, and its to Microsoft’s credit that it chose to linger so long inside it’s dark, drug-addled world once again.
The demo of Xbox Live’s new features – Clubs, Looking For Groups, and Arena – was a little dry, and it seemed unnecessary to show another Battlefield 1’s trailer again as if EA didn’t show us enough in their press conference. The Minecraft Realms demo seemed somewhat scripted, including the John cameo. Still the show was not a complete disappointment. We were shown and “promised” new hardware and great-looking games that Microsoft can for once in a long time can proudly claim as their own. More importantly, we were introduced to its new direction: an Xbox One ecosystem that will, theoretically, ‘leave no gamer behind’, and a high-end console that challenges Sony to beat up it’s game. I’m definitely looking forward in seeing how everything works out when the time comes.
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