The first of the big 3 (Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony) did their presser today with Microsoft opening up the show. In what some might call a surprising turn-about, Microsoft started firing shots across the bow in a big way. This presser was all about the games and features to make your Xbox One experience even better. Considering how much the Xbox One has struggled since its launch, this might be the presser that the die hard Xbox fan pays attention to the most!
In my opinion, Microsoft did incredibly well this year. Since the debut of this generation of console hardware, Sony and Microsoft have been at each other's throats, and today Microsoft made quite a power-play. Although to me it felt a little weak in the games department (for my particular tastes), I felt like they were very strong in their hardware offerings! Let's take a look at some of what was shown.
The showcase included (Release Dates):
Mass Effect Andromeda
Release Date: Holiday 2016
For those that can't get enough Mass Effect, Bioware isn't done. It'll be a new adventure set long after the events of the original trilogy, and taking place in a new galaxy. Built on the Frostbyte engine (like quite a few of EA's titles), it'll be out on PC too.
Release Date: Spring 2016
A brand new IP coming out on the Xbox One about a girl and her robot dog. The game is being developed by Armature Studios, which is made up of the core team behind the frequently lauded Metroid Prime series (Metroid Prime was developed by Retro Studios for Nintendo). Not much to report yet, and the footage shown appeared to be pre-rendered. Might be one to keep an eye on!
Halo 5: Guardians
Release Date: October 27th, 2015
It wouldn't be an Xbox experience without Halo, and Halo 5 made its debut on stage. Halo 5 looks like it'll be taking a bit of a cue from Halo 2 in putting you in the shoes of two opposing groups, being able to play as both Master Chief and another Spartan who is hunting down the series protagonists by the name of Locke. The game will have drop-in/drop-out co-op for up to 4 players. Along with this, a new gameplay mode was introduced known as Warzone. Tagged as being "Player vs Everything" it sounds like typical PvE (Player vs Environment), but details are scarce at the moment.
XBox One Backwards Compatibility
Availability: Holiday 2015
Now this was one of the BIG marlins of the show. As announced by Phil Spencer, the Xbox One will soon be able to play titles from the previous generation of hardware, that being the Xbox 360. While not a colossal fan of the 360 myself, it's pretty hard to argue with the massive library of games that were released for Microsoft's sophomore console. Initially the list of games that will be compatible only number at 100, but there is the standard promise of more games over time. Phil Spencer took some time to explain how the system will work. If you own digital copies of the game, you'll be able to download and play them with no fussing about. If you still own the disc version of the game, it appears that a simple disc check will be used to verify the game (details were scarce on this), and then you'll be able to download a digital copy. Perhaps the game must stay in the disc drive the entire time? What makes this backwards compatibility done right, however, is the fact that you'll be able to utilize the new features from the Xbox One in these older titles. Using features such as screen-shotting, broadcasting to Twitch, and other great quality of life features that we've come to treat as standard. I'm confident that we'll hear more about this one in the coming weeks and months.
Forza Motorsport 6
Release Date: September 15th, 2015
Another release in Microsoft's premier automobile racing franchise dating back to the original Xbox. Not a whole lot to report here, but release is just right around the corner, and if you're a racing fan (or Forza fan) know that you're adequately covered!
XBox Game Preview (i.e. "Early Access")
Release Date: Available Now
Another one of the large marlins that made this a presser full of surprises Phil Spencer announced that the Xbox One will have Game Preview, something that PC players who use Steam would be more familiar with. In Valve's Steam environment players are able to participate in an Early Access system which allows them to generally play a game before its official 'launch' and help supplement development of the title. In general, Early Access titles are buggy as they are still in development, and the experience can change a great deal overtime. Coupling this idea along with Bethesda announcing that the console versions of Fallout 4 will have support for traditional mods as seen on PC, means that the gap between consoles and PCs just became that much smaller. I made a brief amount of commentary on this, as I'm curious as to what kind of safeguards players will have with this system, particularly regarding refunds. As of this moment, there are 4 titles that are available as a part of this program which include Sheltered, Day Z, The Long Dark, and Elite: Dangerous.
Release Date: TBA
The third of the 3 largest marlins in Microsoft's presser, Kudo Tsunoda introduced us to Microsoft's new holographic tech, the HoloLens. From what was shown, Microsoft's new acquisition of Minecraft looks to be a major pay-off. The future is indeed now, and with HoloLens gamers are going to be able to experience their games in an entirely new way. The live stage demo was presented by Saxs Persson from Microsoft Studios and Lydia Winters of Mojang. With the new build of Minecraft made specifically to support the HoloLens, Saxs was able to show a fully rendered 3D Minecraft world right on a table-top. It's one thing to be able to project the game world onto a surface; players will be able to interact with and manipulate the world not just using their controller, but also with voice and their own hand motions. Holographic and virtual reality experiences have become a huge topic in the past few years, but right now we've got what appears to be the biggest potential game changer out there.
Major Titles and Additional Hardware
Microsoft brought so much to the table this year, and these are just the biggest of the big announcements! 3rd party developers also took to the stage to showcase their titles, including the following:
- Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
- Dark Souls III
- Tom Clancy's The Division
- Rare Replay (a compilation of 30 games throughout the history of RARE Ltd)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Sea of Thieves
- Gears of War 4
- Fable Legends
Still with tricks up their sleeve, Microsoft presented their new Xbox One Elite Wireless controller. Designed to work on both the Xbox One AND Windows 10, the Elite Wireless is a modular controller with hot swappable components to allow the user to customize the build of their controller to suit their needs. Features included new button mappings, analog trigger hair triggers, and much more. Definitely intriguing but with a fairly steep price of $150 dollars. Nevertheless, there are those to whom this is an incredibly enticing control option when you are pushing for more performance. Microsoft also announced that they were partnering with Valve on Windows 10 (which surprised me considering how critical Valve has been of Microsoft recently) to ensure that it's a great fit for their own VR headset, the Vive. Combined with the Oculus Rift, HoloLens, and Vive, Microsoft is taking the head-mounted display market very seriously.
I've got to be honest here; Microsoft's past pressers have at times been a little lacklustre. But this year Microsoft pulled no punches and went straight for the throat. They brought games that people wanted to hear about, they brought new tech to the floor and new ways to play, and increased the value of the consumer's dollar by bringing back a historically customer lauded feature in Backwards Compatible software. I tend not to hand out 'grades' on these types of events, but there's one thing I can tell you for sure; Microsoft wants to win this console generation, and they're pulling out all the stops to do it.