Microsoft began their press conference with a statement of solidarity from Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox. “To everyone affected by the recent tragedy in Orlando, our hearts are with you and you should know, you are not alone. The gaming community mourns with you,” he said, while wearing a rainbow flag pin. It was a heartfelt moment, and I was glad to see Microsoft acknowledge the event and show their support for the queer community.
Xbox One S
unveiled their long rumored Xbox One redesign, the Xbox One S (taking a note from Apple’s iPhone nomenclature). The Xbox One S is 40% slimmer, has a 2Tb hard drive, and can display video (not games) at 4K. It also comes with a new Xbox controller, which allows players to customize the colors of different elements to their choosing before buying. The Xbox One S goes on sale this August starting at $299.
Xbox Play Anywhere
At the start of their Gears of War 4 presentation, Microsoft announced their new program, Xbox Play Anywhere. When you buy eligible games digitally, such as Gears 4, you will get a copy for both Xbox One and Windows 10 at no additional cost, with progress and achievements synced between the two. It seems this will be the case for most if not all Xbox exclusives going forward. This is an interesting move, as it means anyone with a high powered gaming PC has next to no impetus to buy an Xbox One now. However, as someone who owns a gaming PC, I’m thrilled. Furthermore, Gears 4 will support crossplay between Xbox One and Windows 10 for all co-op modes.
Gears of War 4
Laura Bailey, voice actor behind one of Gears 4’s lead characters, Kait, joined Rod Ferguson, Director of Gears 4, to demo the campaign in co-op. The gameplay demo sees Kait and the other two members of the team trying to rescue Kait’s mother, who was abducted by an alien threat called the Swarm. As they fight and shoot their way through a new weapon was shown off, called the Buzzkill, which fires saw blades that ricochet off surfaces. An electrical storm was running wild during the demo, which showed off the impressive weather and visual effects.
At one point in the demo, Kait spears an alien that is crawling away on the floor. She picks the alien up with her bayonet saying “Looks like you could use a pick me up,” before blasting it away with her shotgun. All of this is to say, Gears’ obsession with violence still comes off as immature and puerile as ever. The demo ended with a massive alien creature emerging, just before the actual fight started. And to top it off, everyone’s favorite gravelly voiced, angst-ridden, white guy with daddy issues is back: Marcus Fenix made a cameo appearance as a gray-haired old man. Gears of War 4 is releasing Oct. 11th.
Killer Instinct is now an Xbox Play Anywhere game and is getting a brand new character in its third season of post-launch support, General Raam from the original Gears of War. General Raam is free to try this week for anyone who owns Killer Instinct.
Forza Horizon 3
debuted Forza Horizon 3, which will take place in an open-world Australia. Once again, Forza Horizon 3 will be Xbox Play Anywhere. Forza Horizon 3 will feature both densely packed cities and street racing in locations such as Melbourne, as well as off-road events in the Outback. This will be the largest open world and largest car roster ever in Forza Horizon 3. There will even be 4-player co-op. Co-op is crossplay enabled and when activated, everyone’s worlds, traffic, weather, and more, will sync to the session’s host’s world. Forza Horizon 3 is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 on Sept. 27th.
We got our first look at the gameplay of Recore with an extended trailer. The game is firmly situated in the third-person action/adventure genre. Recore tells the adventure of Joule and her team of robot companions on the planet of Far Eden. Her three companions each have a different function: exploration, traversal, and combat. The trailer featured some flashy platforming and traversal, as Joule bounded around the desert planet and fought its robot inhabitants. The game’s debut last year intrigued me, and I’m now excited to finally get a chance to play when it releases on Sept. 19th for Xbox One and Windows 10.
Final Fantasy XV
Two developers from Square Enix, Hajime Tabata and Mathew Kishimoto, came onstage to show an extended gameplay segment for Final Fantasy XV. Kishimoto said that the battle system is “fast and fluid, which has never been achieved in any of our previous titles.” Indeed, the gameplay segment seems closer to an action game than a turn-based JRPG, especially as Kishimoto seemed to only be controlling Noctis, rather than the usual Final Fantasy style of controlling a whole team. However, it’s hard to say how it will really feel until I can get my own hands on it. The scale of the fight they showed off is certainly impressive, with Noctis and allies fighting a massive titan. Final Fantasy XV is releasing on Sept. 30th for PS4 and Xbox One.
The Division: Underground Expansion
Ubisoft announced the first expansion to their civilian murder game, The Division. Titled Underground, this expansion will take place largely underneath the main game’s setting of Manhattan, in sewers and the vast subway network. It introduces randomly generated missions, new dungeons, and new equipment and gear. Knowing how much everyone loves timed exclusivity, The Division: Underground will be available on Xbox One first, starting June 28th, coming to PS4 at a later date.
If you own both an Xbox One and are subscribed to EA Access then you get to play Battlefield 1 a week early, starting Oct. 13th. Then they showed the exact same trailer from EA’s press conference. You know, in case you forgot or something.
New Xbox Live Features
Background Music: play music from your Xbox One while you play games and control volume independently.
Language Region Independence: Language and region are no longer co-dependent, and language can be changed.
Cortana: The Windows 10 and Windows Phone digital assistant is coming to Xbox One.
Clubs: Players will now be able to create Clubs on Xbox Live, which will be interest-driven communities.
Looking for Group (LFG): This will allow you to put out statuses akin to “Help Wanted” ads to make finding like-minded people to play multiplayer with easier.
Arena: A new tournament platform on Xbox Live designed for Esports. Microsoft, other publishers, and studios will be able to host tournaments on Xbox Live through Arena.
Minecraft: Realms and Crossplay
The Minecraft Team announced crossplay between Xbox, iOS, and Android Devices (sorry Playstation/Mac). Players will now also be able to create and host custom servers, which will be called Realms. They then showed off a Minecraft game on a customer server (or, Realm) with someone playing on an iPad, another playing an a Surface tablet, and another playing on Gear VR. Mobile and Windows 10 versions of Minecraft will also be getting texture packs. Lastly, the Minecraft Team announced add-ons which will allow players to change mobs and animals into completely different versions, such as turning zombies into aliens or villagers into secret agents. Add-ons are coming to mobile and Windows 10 versions of Minecraft this fall. Add-ons and Realms will be coming to consoles next year. The focus on mobile and PC platforms is interesting, but considering how young Minecraft skews, it makes sense.
The second outing form Limbo developer Playdead is finally coming out on June 29th for Xbox One and July 7th on Steam. The trailer showed off an office-like setting that exudes a feeling of the uncanny. To celebrate, Limbo is free on Xbox One for the next week.
ID@Xbox, Microsoft’s indie game publishing program, showed a highlight reel of over a dozen upcoming indie games to Xbox One. Ark: Survival Evolved will also be an Xbox Play Anywhere game. Check out the list of games and the full highlight reel below.
Deliver Us the Moon
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
For the King
Hand of Fate 2
Raiders of the Broken Planet
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
We Happy Few
Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few got an extended gameplay demo that showed off the game’s fascinating themes of happiness and conformity. At the beginning, the player character is struggling to resist the allure of Brave New World-style happiness pills, before seemingly losing consciousness due to withdrawal effects. When he comes to, he gets up and walks around the strange compound. Everyone he sees has their face painted white and a disturbingly happy grin on. The demo ends with his wife discovering that he refuses to take his happiness pills, at which point security start chasing him. We Happy Few has a lot of promise, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes with these interesting themes. We Happy Few will be available on Xbox One’s Game Preview program, which works much like Steam Early Access.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
CD Projekt Red confirmed the rumored Witcher 3 card game Gwent. Gwent will be crossplay enabled and will feature a full single player campaign. Gwent expands upon the card game from Witcher 3 with new gameplay features, cards, and a full visual redesign. Gwent will offer players a deck of just ten cards for each game. Player decks will have cards from four factions: the Skellige Warriors, the Northern Realms, the Scoiatel, and the monsters. There will be a beta on Xbox One and Windows which you can register for on PlayGwent.com. Gwent is releasing this September.
Tekken 7 is the latest fighting game in the Tekken series. Coming in Early 2017, it will have a new story mode that, as shown in their debut trailer, will transition seamlessly between fights and cutscenes. Continuing the free game giveaways, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 will be free on Xbox Live to all Gold members for the next week.
Dead Rising 4
Dead Rising 4 sees the return of protagonist Frank West for more zombie-killing and weapon-crafting, with a distinct Holiday theme this time around. The debut trailer had the Christmas song “Jingle Bell Rock” playing over it as Frank browsed his Twitter feed and fought zombies with a variety of all new weapons. The series’ tongue-in-cheek humor looks to be making a clear return.
Hideki Kamiya came onstage to show off “the biggest boss fight Platinum Games has ever made” with Scalebound’s co-op. The demo showcased four players, riding dragons, all fighting against an even more colossal, crab-like boss. This is the kind of game where the bleach-blonde haired protagonist puts on his headphones before fighting. It is impressive that they’ve managed to get four players on playing together against a boss as large as this one.
Sea of Thieves
Rare showed off Sea of Thieves with both a cinematic trailer and the gameplay reveal. The trailer showed three different crews, with every character in every crew controlled by a real person, exploring and adventuring in Sea of Thieves. Some spent their time sailing, others explored islands, other spent their time drinking. It culminated in two crews having an all-out cannon battle on the high seas, with one ship ending up at the bottom of the ocean. The focus for Sea of Thieves appears to be on multiplayer. I hope the team at Rare have created enough fun systems to allow for the divergent experiences in the trailer to happen naturally.
State of Decay 2
announced State of Decay 2, sequel to Undead Labs’ open-world survival game. From the trailer’s statement that “No one survives alone,” State of Decay 2 may be introducing co-op to the mix. It is once again taking place in Trumbull County.
Halo Wars 2
Halo Wars 2 will pick up the story of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, with the crew waking to find themselves orbiting the Arc, an alien construct with a hostile faction known as the Banished running it. Halo Wars 2 is being developed by Creative Assembly, famous for their long running strategy series Total War and is releasing on Xbox One and Windows 10 on Feb. 21st, 2017. They also confirmed the previously leaked beta, running this whole week on Xbox One. I’ve never cared for strategy games, but the original Halo Wars grabbed my attention and I found it to be quite fun. I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of this series next year.
Microsoft began the last portion of their press conference with the slogan “Beyond Generations.” They showed a video of a host of diverse developers talking about the power of the new Xbox console and what it means for them. Project Scorpio will have eight CPU cores, six teraflops of GPU power, and will support 4K gaming and VR. We didn’t get to see what the console will actually look like, but it will be releasing Holiday 2017. Microsoft stressed that “no one gets left behind” and all games and accessories will work on the original Xbox One, the Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio.
showed off some intriguing games at their conference, but it ran a little overlong. Recore, We Happy Few, and ID@Xbox were definitely my highlights. What’s most curious are Xbox Play Anywhere and Project Scorpio. Play Anywhere has removed any prior desire I had to buy an Xbox One, and likely did the same for anyone else with a gaming PC. Announcing Project Scorpio this far in advance would also seem to discourage anyone looking to buy an Xbox One. Now, if they just wait another year, there will be a far more powerful model out. These are curious choices from Microsoft. The slogan “Beyond Generations” also signals a possible sea change in gaming. We might be moving away from the generation cycle, where people only upgrade when the next generation starts. Microsoft seems to be looking to copy the smartphone market, with more frequent, incremental upgrades. Personally, I like the ease of buying one console and being set for the generation. I don’t really want to be forced to upgrade more frequently. I’m still dubious of how much support Microsoft will provide for the original Xbox One (now there’s a mouthful) once Scorpio releases. Only time will tell.