Microsoft Xbox E3 2017 – Our thoughts
Finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for since the original unveiling in 2016. The show that will finally give everyone the final details on the Xbox Scorpio, specifically It’s final name, final form, final price as well as a final, definitive showing of what the ‘most powerful console available’ can finally do. Microsoft had managed to run a very tight ship this year, with very few leaks and rumours managing to squeeze out before the actual show meaning most of us were going in blind with very little known what to expect, apart from a few obvious games such as Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding Microsoft over high profile cancellations, few first party games left to look forward to and fewer sales in comparison to the high momentum Sony has maintained with the PS4, this was the show to demonstrate that Microsoft are still in the game and plenty of life left to boot. Did they deliver? Lets find out.
The show starts off by showing everyone what playing games on the original Xbox through to the current Xbox one S looked like. From 640×480 in 2001 to 1920×1080 expected in most current games today. Finishing off by a confident declaration of ’It all leads to this’, with the screen finally being filled with the worlds 4k Ultra HD – Clearly this is the message they are pushing this show.
The first 5 or so minutes unveils the final form of Project Scorpio. A Greyish tone, with the same look as the Xbox One S only, amazingly, Microsoft has actually made it smaller than the Xbox One S. The usual chat starts with any hardware unveiling, by extolling the virtues of the power hidden under the hood. Filling everyone’s ears with tech details which sound impressive as individual soundbytes, but I always feel do little to truly sell what a console is really capable of. Most importantly, we get the final name. With the Scorpio moniker finally being dropped and replaced with the less impactful name of Xbox One X. Yes, it follows the same naming scheme as the One S, but I, and I think everyone else, expected something a bit more from the Xbox marketing team. The problem I have now is coming up with a suitable acronym for the new Xbox. Is it XOX? XOneX? Or, how about XbOX?
Later in the show we get the final release date, the 7th of November for a worldwide release, no more staggered release dates like the poorly conceived Xbox One release back in 2014. We also get the final price of $499/ 499 euro and £449.99 respectively.
During the show, Phil boasts that they have 42 games to show, with 22 of them being exclusive, in some form or another to the Xbox Platform, which I will try to summarise below. But it is an impressive showing and very little of the show is spent on marketing spiel or sales statistics. Phil again, wanted a show to be all about the games which, apart from the understandable talky intro to the Xbox One X, and a few other moments, he and the Xbox team managed to achieve that goal.
Besides the Xbox One X details, we also got announcements that the existing backwards compatibility program now has over 385 Xbox 360 titles working on the Xbox one and that over half of the Xbox One user base has played backwards compatible games. He then tops it off by announcing, something I’ve been personally been shouting loud about for years and that was Original Xbox backwards compatibility. The crowd was equally as excited as I was, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying the rapture matched that when Xbox 360 backwards compatibility was originally announced. Still, it’s another notch in the Xbox family’s belt, with the possibility of all Xbox games, from all 3 generations finally playable on your existing Xbox One or One S consoles.
We also get confirmation that Microsoft first party titles, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2, Killer Instinct and Minecraft will all get 4k updates for the upcoming Xbox One X release, as well to expect updates for over 30 third party titles, ranging from Ghost Recon and Final Fantasy 15.
State of Decay 2, Undead Labs co-op Zombie Survival game also looked great but didn’t seem to be too optimised yet with, what looked like at times, a struggling framerate. Still, the game highlighted everything we can expect from playing the first game, building up communities, finding survivors, looting for equipment and, of course, surviving hordes of dangerous zombies. We know that the world is at least 3 times as large as the first game and, going by how the demo looked in this video, hopefully the time between now and release, Spring 2018, that frame rate will be locked to at least 30fps. Still, the first game was a bit of a sleeper hit for Undead Labs, fingers crossed they are able to repeat, if not better the success they got with the original game.
Then we had Crackdown 3, being headlined by the friendly muscled giant, Terry Crews. Shouting at us, getting us hyped for the battle ahead. Gameplay finally showed us some in game action, with, predictably, 4 players running and vaulting over buildings while attacking enemies ranging from gas mask wearing chemical workers to tall, gun toting mechs. Surprisingly, the footage never really showed much, if any of the destruction this game was meant to include. No sign of entire buildings being demolished or individual floors being blown up and raining debris below. The hope is that this wasn’t a sign of a change in focus for the title as the destruction has been the key focus of the title ever since it was originally announced. Still, besides that, it still retains the classic Crackdown artstyle, albeit with much more happening on screen now. Hopefully more details will come out in the next few days with more concrete details on the destruction obviously omitted from the demo reel.
Rare was also there to show off the recent build of Sea of Thieves and it’s certainly, slowly, building up to be a title to keep your eye on. Graphically, Rare have still maintained that distinctly cartoony rare style they are known for, while equally, making the world feel incredible to be in. The water effects and landscapes in particular looked incredible. The demo itself jumped from sailing your boat with your crew, diving under the ocean to find a separate world to explore under the waves, to exploring a nearby island where a treasure map, the players have, points to a hidden treasure chest to dig up and loot. The treasure map contained fun, short riddles that needed to be solved to find the location of the loot which is an interesting change to the normal, follow the waypoints on a map approach you would have expected. Hopefully the full game will contain many variations of these riddles and won’t be plagued by repeated use of the same ones. Finally, finding the treasure caused the island to come alive with undead pirates rising from their graves and chasing the players down. Co-operation seems necessary at this point to escort the player holding the chest through the dangers and onto the boat. The demo reel managed to make the entire sequence very cinematic like with well timed intervention from your ship when the players finally made it to the beach. Finally, as the players escape the island, they come under attack from another, presumably, player ship. Jumping into a cannon on your ship, the player got fired across to the other ship where the demo player single handedly manages to kill the crew on the other ship before jumping off to end the demo in equally cinematic flare.
A new Ori game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, while expected, didn’t fail to impress. Introduced with a live piano performance on stage, the music served as the perfect vessel to introduce both a beautiful, colourful world and a world full of decay and infection. It’s obvious that the success of the first game opened up a bigger budget for Moon studios to really stretch their creative skills and, as the demo video shows, they haven’t held anything back. And I question those who didn’t feel their heart tugging in their chest when the camera pulled back to reveal why there was a sad baby owl needing comfort from Ori at the end of the demo.
Finally from the first party teams, we had Minecraft, where we got the surprising announcement that, soon, Xbox One players will soon be able to play against Nintendo Switch players, as well as VR and mobile devices. Microsoft finally showing off that cross play between separate ecosystems are possible and, will no doubt flare up the old discussion on whether PlayStation and Xbox players will ever be able to play together across games. Along with this, it’s announced that in fall 2017, players will get a 4k update called the ‘Super Duper graphics pack’ which actually manages to make Minecraft’s blocky, low res deliberate look, look quite incredible with some very stunning natural lighting, natural shadows and water great water reflections.
Phil briefly, finally talks about his recent visit to Japan which leads into a few demonstrations from some Japanese developers, such as Dragon Ball Fighter Z, which is a 2D fighter set in the Dragon Ball Z universe, which looked incredible to watch. However, it was very hard to understand what was going on. Bombastic, over the top combo’s was the focus of the video, with lots of fast transitions, moves and hits that you would easily miss in a blink of an eye. It’s certainly one to keep an eye on for fans of the show and 2D beat-em-up enthusiasts.
We then had Black Desert, a new MMORPG from Korean developer, Pearl Abyss. Starting off with fly overs of impressive looking landscapes and vistas to flying through medieval villages and castles with their occupants looking like they are preparing for war. We then get some montages of, what I assume to be playable characters, fighting enemies in ever grander in scale and numbers. Due out in Early 2018, it’s advertised as a console exclusive, suggesting it will come to other platforms at some point.
Bandai Namco also showed off their Dark Souls inspired ‘Code Vein’, due for release at some point in 2018. Showing off brooding and desolate environments, and what looks like 2 playable characters, as they go toe-to-toe against large enemies, dodging and timing attacks between the enemies own swings.
A huge highlight (and a personal one at that) was having Player Unknown take to the stage to tell everyone of their impressive 3,000,000+ player base on their hugely popular PC title, Battlegrounds. An immensely popular game the streaming community has focused on, with hundreds, if not thousands of views per day on the various streaming platforms out there. But the important point was announcing a version of the game coming to the Xbox One by the end of the year. It’s a console launch exclusive, so no doubt this will appear on the PlayStation as well at some point in the future.
The first third party suprise was finding out we had a new Metro game coming out, Metro Exodus. The Metro games always where a shining example of how good a strong single player based game can look and feel and this third game in the series looks to offer jsut as good, if not an even better experience. Equeally, the metro games where always seen as graphical showcases – on both console and PC and this third entry looks to be carrying that torch onwards. Boasting an open world approach, rather than the more linear approach of the previous games, the world has a strong Fallout feel to it as well as feeling just as alive with wandering, dangerous wildlife to keep you on your toes.
As expected Ubisoft was there, showing off the incredible looking Assassins Creed Origins, and it’s looking as if the year break they took after Assassins Creed Syndicate was exactly what the series needed. Set in ancient Egypt, players take the role of a Magi, a sheriff type character trying to protect his community. The games 4k focus really shined in the demonstration and Ubisoft took the time to show off some of the new mechanics you can expect when the game comes out. The combat engine looks like it’s been refined, new skill tree, levelling up system to finding and using legendary weapons, suggesting the game will have a loot system that seems to becoming more common in lots of genres these days. Due out in October 2017, I can see Microsoft using this as another title to show off the Xbox One X’s 4k chops.
Equally, as expected on display, was Warner Brothers with the new Middle Earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to 2014’s Middle Earth: Shadow of War. We got a brief glimpse of the enhanced combat engine, showing off an impressive series of one hit combo’s as the player tore through a pile of enemy orks before finally confronting the boss of the demo, ‘Bruz the Chopper’. Never before would I have thought you could inject character and charm into an ugly, dumb ork, but the character they have injected into ‘Bruz’ was not only funny but almost worth watching to see how he develops over the course of the game. We also get a brief glimpse of the new Nemesis system, the original game pioneered as well as a short view of the game allowing you to pick your forces as you lay assault on an enemy held fortress. Overall, a strong showing for the new Mordor game.
The final big third party showing was from Bioware and their first public showing of Anthem, which is quite possibly one of the best looking games this humble write has ever seen and I have no doubt will be seen as the best looking third party game of the show. Whether the final game will retain this level of fidelity and detail when released next year, is something we will need to see. But in its current form, you will struggle to find anything that matches the quality being shown. And, given they make a point of saying that the footage on display is taken directly from an Xbox One X, it does a great job of selling you on the merits of the system.
From the second the demo starts, you’re immediately put on the back foot by how incredible the scene looks. In the middle of a dusty, third world looking market, bustling with incredibly realistic people while, for want of a better description, a walking ship towers and passes by overhead, nothing in the scene comes across as filler material. The player is approached by an npc who gives the player a mission. You’re then introduced to the Javelin’s, the armoured suits the players in teh game will adorn and fight in. We’re introduced to two classes, Colossus and Ranger and it’s explained that a player will have many suits of different styles and characteristics. The doros to the city opened up and you find yourself in front of this incredible vista of lush greens, forest and rock formations. You expect a loading scene at this point but find your character take a leap off the platform and plummet, at some speed, towards the ground before the engines in your suit take over and your flying around like you would if you wore a wingsuit. It can’t be accurately described just how good this sequence looks as your character flies in between rock formations, past trees as they react to your wake and cause the natural wildlife to scatter below. This all appears to be player controlled as well with the rest of the demo is full of more examples of the level of detail in this wonderous world you are going to be playing in. One example is an impressive, seamless transition from flying in the sky to diving under the surface of a lake and discovering new locations to explore underneath, before surfacing again and transitioning immediately into combat. From 4 player co-op, loot drops from enemies and a ‘dynamic ever changing’ world, it seems that Bioware has a game that will, at face value at least, directly compete for the same audience the Destiny attracts on a daily basis. We will need to wait till some point in 2018 to see the final article, however.
We also had a large focus on smaller titles where apparently the ID@Xbox programme has brought over 500 games to the Xbox One and Windows platforms. Between a sizzle real of about 20 games, showing titles such as Conan Exiles, Robocraft, Surviving Mars, Unruly Heroes, Brawlout and Riverbond, From simulators, 2d brawlers, stunning 2D platformers, third person shooters and quirky retro inspired games.The Xbox One has a diverse range of indie titles due to be released over the coming year.
Other smaller titles which caught the eye was Super Lucky’s Tale, an xbox one exclusive which looks very much like a Mario-esque, charming platformer. Ashen a stylistic and minimalist co-op souls type game, Deep Rock Galactic a sci-fi exploring game with built in support for Microsoft’s Mixer interactivity. The Darwin Project, another battle royale type game with a strong eSports focus (if the over enthusiastic onstage presenter was anything to go by), with cartoony type graphics and another game to champion built in mixer interactivity. The Last night, an absolutely stunning looking pixel art game, with stricking Blade Runner feels and strong gameplay similarities to the classic Another World and Flashback games. And, finally, the wild, acid trip inducing look and sound of ‘An Artful Escape’, which I struggle even now to try and explain, other than resembling a runner type game where the character uses the the power of music to traverse it’s equally wild looking world. Oh, and Cuphead finally gets an official release date too, September 29th, if you’re still interested.
Overall, a reasonably good showing for the Xbox, I feel, despite the lack of any new first party titles in development, with lots of strong third party support pledging to support the Xbox One X, as well as post support from games already available. Strong and plentiful third party support tells us we have plenty to look forward to in the coming year also and lets not forget the amazing feat of the backwards compatibility team enabling us to play original Xbox games too.
I know Phil Spencer likes to focus on games we will see in the coming year, but I think Xbox owners, and potential customers, need to know what else he has planned from his own teams to solidify the Xbox One and, especially the Xbox One X, as a platform to look to for incredible, unique gaming experiences. The first party games on show were good, but they were an already known quantity. It’s also, all fair and well showing off what third party teams can do with the impressive Xbox One X’s hardware, and that third party games will potentially look the best on it. But we need to know that there are exclusives coming to warrant that hefty price tag. That £450 price is going to be hard to swallow when customers looking to upgrade can look at the PlayStation Pro’s current £350 price tag, with included games, and know that they can get a similar Ultra 4k experience for £100 less than what Microsoft want for the Xbox One X.
I do question whether the difference between the native 4k offered on the Xbox One X and PlayStation Pro’s pseudo 4k will have any impact when lesser informed customers, who either don’t care or recognise the difference both consoles offer, come to make a decision on where to spend their money. There is no denying the power difference between the Pro and the Xbox One X. But other than third party games – which will all, at some point appear on the PlayStation Pro at some point anyway, is there enough content on the Xbox platform to sway potential customers, and gamers looking to upgrade, to get an Xbox One X over a Pro. Time will tell, especially once the hardware is out in the wild and we start to get real life reports and comparisons between both consoles.
But, pricing of the console aside, The Xbox One X seems to be the real deal, with some notably strong examples shown, during their show, exactly what the Xbox One X can do. Microsoft seems to have the backing of many major and minor third party developers and the sheer weight of games on display during their show was testament to that. And with promise of 4k updates to come for many games already released, tells us that the development community see the Xbox One X as worthy of their time and investment. And, while Microsoft are looking towards a 4k focussed future, they haven’t forgotten their humble beginnings and hope to bring relevance and, perhaps, a new lease of life to the catalogue of games that has gotten the Xbox brand to where it is today by offering Original Xbox Games in their backwards compatibility programme. So, maybe not show full of surprises and shocks, but definitely a confident strong line-up for the Xbox brand for the next year to come.
But you tell us. Did you think this was a strong conference? Did Microsoft sell you on the idea of an Xbox One X?