Thoughts On Everything That Was Announced At Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference

by Sage Ashford

Well, Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference has come and gone.  As the only console publisher to be present at the show, they had a lot to live up to. What’d they bring, and how’d they do? Let’s get into that.

They led things off with the latest game from one of their newest acquisitions, Obsdian Entertainment, The Outer Worlds. Because The Outer Worlds began as a part of Take 2’s Private Division, it’s in the unique position of being a first-party game that’s actually multi-platform. Nonetheless, they felt strong enough about it to lead off with it, giving us a story trailer which had a completely different tone than what we’ve been used to, shedding the whimsical feel to talk about the more serious parts of the game, which involve a galaxy under the complete control of a single corporation.  They wrapped up the trailer with a release date as well: October 25th, 2019.  Probably the most surprising is they decided to turn this into an Xbox Game Pass title on Day One.  Microsoft is really driving home the idea of Xbox Game Pass being their future.

Next up was Ninja Theory (Hellblade, DmC) and their newest IP, Bleeding Edge. This was unfortunately leaked a couple days before the conference, but it looks like someone crossed Sunset Overdrive with a hero shooter.  It’s a multiplayer focused game with 4v4 action, with a number of different, unique main characters. Fortunately this game will probably have GamePass to rely on, because it’s a pretty far jump from what Ninja Theory has been known for–character action titles with a strong single-player focus.  The technical alpha for this game begins June 27th.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks better every time developer Moon Studios shows it off, and this time they gave us a glimpse at some of the boss monsters Ori will be facing as he explores this hauntingly beautiful world.  We also got a release date: February 11th, 2020.

Mojang is back with a new twist on the ever-popular Minecraft game in Minecraft Dungeons, an action-adventure title in which players will go dungeon crawling in a world that retains the classic Minecraft look.  The game supports four-player local and online co-operative play, and players will be able to choose between multiple different classes to support one another through the dungeon.  This game is actually multi-platform, and will be available on PC, consoles, and Game Pass when it releases Spring 2020.

Microsoft snagged a secondary trailer for EA and Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and this one’s more of a story trailer. It delves into how Cal Kestis meets up with the resistance, and shows off more of the different planets and set pieces the game contains.  Jedi: Fallen Order is available November 15th, 2019.

After this, the conference briefly had a bit of a dark turn as it introduced a Blair Witch game.  It’s a first person, psychological horror game based on the cinematic lore of the film.  Being developed by Bloober Team, it sees a man attempting to find a missing child alongside his dog, Bullet.

The Cyberpunk 2077 trailer seems to pick up not long after the events of that 45 minute gameplay video CD Projekt showed us last year. After a mission goes wrong, our main character has to deal with the consequences.  I won’t spoil what happens afterwards, save to say that eventually the lead character meets up with rocker Johnny Silverhand, a character from the original PnP game, played by Keanu Reeves himself. Keanu also came out to give us the release date: April 16th, 2020

After this, the conference downshifted to some smaller games for a bit, beginning with Spiritfarer. Spiritfarer is a multi-platform title described as “a cozy management game about dying. As ferrymaster to the deceased, build a boat to explore the world, care for your spirit friends, and guide them across mystical seas to finally release them into the afterlife.”   The game has a loose release year of 2020.

Battletoads is finally back, and it looks exactly like what we’d expect an arcade-y game made in 2019 would look like.  It focuses on platforming beat ’em up action and has three-player couch co-op available.  Somehow, there’s still no release date for this, however.

After this, they gave us a giant list of ID @ Xbox titles–no less than twenty small and/or independent games, including Killer Queen Black, Dead Static Drive, TABS: Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, and Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game–just to name a few.  And they’re all coming to Xbox GamePass soon, alongside some major games which were announced at the show and were already available: Batman: Arkham Knight, Hollow Knight, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, and Metro Exodus. 

At this point they went into detail about Xbox Game Pass, which is now coming to PC.  They’ve also combined Xbox Game Pass with Xbox Live Gold to create Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a subscription which will allow players to access GamePass on Xbox consoles and PC, for $14.99.

Coming out of that ID@Xbox montage trailer comes a trailer which…probably should’ve been in the montage: Microsoft Flight Simulator.  It’s a breathtaking game, but it speaks to a niche enough audience that I’m not sure it needed two minutes all to itself.  No release date, but again another Xbox Game Pass title on launch.

Strategy fans got a little love with the reveal of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, remastered for 4K graphics and updated audio, along with a brand-new campaign in The Last Khans.  This game releases later this year.

Last year one of Xbox’s more surprising purchases was that of inXile Entertainment, a company which largely focuses on developing isometric role-playing games.  Along with that, they got the marketing rights to Wasteland 3, a game funded with the crowdservice platform Fig, which means this title will actually be multi-platform and come to PlayStation 4, Linux, and macOS as well as Xbox One and PC.  This trailer is decidedly more whimsical than Wasteland 2, as we get a look at the post-apocalyptic winter of Colorado.  This game is supposedly due out in Fall 2019.

Speaking of surprising purchases, Xbox announced that Double Fine Productions (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Broken Age) would be joining Xbox Studios.  That got us a new trailer for Psychonauts 2.  Another game which will be multi-platform because of how it was developed, Psychonauts 2 is scheduled for a release later this year.

Another “World Premiere” came in after this with Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.  This game will collapse all nine films into a single game, which actually sounds like the most over the top epic thing possible.  It’s coming 2020, which makes sense given the ninth film isn’t even out yet.

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Bandai-Namco was working on a Dragon Ball Z RPG.  Now, we know it’s called Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and is an open-zoned action RPG that will cover the life of Son Goku.  Though it was originally mentioned this would be coming out in 2019, it’s now confirmed for an early 2020 release.

12 Minutes – Man Trapped in a Time Loop

The Gears 5 stuff was truly baffling. There was little to no gameplay on stage, just a bunch of “events” leading up to the release of the game.  First off, it’s coming out September 10th, but it’ll be available four days earlier for players who have Xbox GamePass Ultimate.  A multi-player demo will be available on July 17th, and a test for their horde mode will be available August 19th.  Finally, they have a new mode known as Escape, where players will be asked to infiltrate enemy locations, plant bombs, and escape.  Finally, there’s what’s shown in the trailer above–for everyone who pre-orders, they can get the Terminator: Dark Fate DLC pack for free.

Dying Light 2 makes a re-appearance here, giving us a story trailer following protagonist Aiden Caldwell, who’s apparently already an infected when the game starts. This raises questions about how infection works in this universe, but with story and choice/consequence being a big focus for this title, it’s almost certain they delve into that.  Dying Light 2 releases Spring 2020.

Everything is Awesome when Forza Horizon 4 adds it’s new expansion, LEGO: Speed Champions to the game on June 13th.  Guess the Forza developers are busy working on Forza 9 for next-gen.

State of Decay 2: Heartland is an expansion to the existing State of Decay 2 storyline, and will see players get to work as two different characters, a young woman and an older man, searching for people important to them.  It’s described as the game’s biggest expansion yet, and is available now.

Perhaps the most surprising game at the show was the announcement that Microsoft had somehow gotten Sega to localize the popular Phantasy Star Online 2.  Featuring all of the current content, Phantasy Star Online 2 will be a free to play game for all Xbox One and PC gamers.

CrossFire is one of those incredibly popular games I’d never actually heard of before.  But it’s got 650 million players registered over its ten year life time.  Now we’ve got CrossFire X, a new free to play first-person title set in the CrossFire world.  It’ll have both a single-player campaign (which is partially developed by Remedy Entertainment) as well as traditional multi-player and a battle royale mode.  Players will work together on the side of one of two mercenary groups: Black List, or Global Risk, to complete their missions.  CrossFire X will come to Xbox One first in 2020.

My personal favorite announcement from this conference is Tales of Arise.  Bandai-Namco raised the bar for the first and only current-gen exclusive Tales of, as this game looks gorgeous.  It also seems to be leaning into some sci-fi roots, which basically turns the franchise (however briefly) into Star Ocean, except…hopefully it’ll sell.  This game is confirmed to release sometime in 2020.

Microsoft was pretty much the only place we could’ve gotten this new Borderlands 3 trailer.  But it was easy to let what else 2K/Gearbox had slip away without notice, as they’ve got a prequel to Borderlands 3 in Commander Lillith and the Fight for Sanctuary, which is available now.

Miyazaki and George R.R. Martin’s game. Elden Ring felt like an impossible game when it was first announced. Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R.R. Martin sounds like a fake rumor, but it turned out to be the “so weird it has to be true” kind instead. And so here we are, with a cinematic trailer for the game.  This is FromSoft’s forte when it comes to reveals, which is why the leak of this game really hurt them. This could’ve been an exciting, killer moment for Microsoft and Bandai-Namco, but instead it just left everyone wondering what this game actually looks like and is about.  We know it’s an action RPG, and will maintain the same controller-smashing difficulty everyone keeps their intense love-hate relationship with FROM for, and we know it’ll have the dark fantasy elements that Miyazaki loves.  Aside from that?  We’re in the dark.

True to what everyone suspected, Xbox talked about Project Scarlett, the next-stage in their gaming process.  It seems like a real monster of a machine, as it’s capable of playing titles from all four generations of Xbox.  It boasts a Zen 2/Navi CPU, GDDR6 RAM, and claims to be capable of HDMI 2.1, which means it’ll be able to do up to 120fps and 8K resolution. It’s raytracing capable, and will have a Solid State Drive to help speed the system up.  There’s no way this thing doesn’t cost some absurd amount of money, so there’s a strong chance the rumor about a streaming focused system is also true, because they’re not going to want to sell a $700 console as their only model.

Lastly, they showed us Halo Infinite.  Confirmed to be launching in Holiday 2020 alongside Xbox Scarlett, this trailer was a lengthy cinematic focused on waking Master Chief up.  The game is a soft reboot following Halo 5, and from the looks of things Master Chief and his people have lost a massive war.  The soft reboot part lends credence to the rumors that this game will have RPG-like elements and maybe not be as straightforward a FPS as games from the past.

Post Show Thoughts:

I thought Microsoft had a strong conference this year, and everyone else’s expectations were simply set too high. Game development takes time, especially now that we’re nearly three generations into the HD era.  There’s no way Microsoft is going to show up at E3 2018 and tell us they’ve bought all these new studios and made one new studio, and then in E3 2019 I’m going to believe they’ve got games to show.  No, they’ve got cinematic cutscenes to show, because that’s all there is–vertical slices by and large aren’t there, because they simply can’t be.  Gameplay isn’t ready yet.

We should also address the elephant in the room.  However they did it, the usual internet randos who leak a few things during E3 season managed to leak literally everything. A few hours before the show, I was able to find information on Xbox Scarlet down to the specific techy buzzwords used in the hype video.  That can’t hurt a game like Tales of Arise, but it can hurt a lot of titles which don’t have much to show, like Elden Ring.

Lastly, a major complaint seems to be that most of the titles announced were 2020.   Well, that’s how E3 usually is.  Personally I think this is much better than it was earlier in the generation, when games announced with literally no release year at all.  These are all games we saw that should be in our hands within the next eighteen months.

Overall, I thought Microsoft did well considering what they could have reasonably had. Rockstar’s done for the generation, Rocksteady and WB Montreal bowed out, Square showing up to do their own show basically robbed them of Final Fantasy or Marvel’s Avengers, and even Capcom wasn’t present.  They couldn’t bring the big guns because everyone’s reloading for next-gen, and as I saw someone else put it, this E3 is just cleaning out the to-do list.

Having said that, there were some unfortunate missteps in this conference. Gears 5 had one of the strangest showings ever, shifting away from showing gameplay to advertise a bunch of modes and be the most blatant commercial ever.  343 should’ve shown what they did this year for Halo Infinite last year, and this year should’ve had actual gameplay available.   Lastly, we’ve been talking about a potential Fable game for what feels like two years now, and they still couldn’t show us anything?  It was never promised to be sure, but it felt like that was the solid “One More Thing” they needed to really clench this conference, and it wasn’t there.

Combine all of the above with the overall lack of gameplay shown here–regardless of the reason, and I think it’s hard to give Microsoft anything above a solid B.  They did an above average job, but didn’t really excel at anything other than pacing it semi-decently. Still, the future looks bright for Xbox fans going forward.

Sage Ashford

A writer with way too many hobbies, Sage can often be found catching up on the latest anime, or reading a stack of comics between Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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