Microsoft’s E3 conferences have been sort of a joke for years now. Starting 2010, the focus has always been on Kinect, media, apps, TV, and so on. Last year, Microsoft’s conference at E3 was a bit better thanks to their emphasis on the games coming to the Xbox One, but the overall impression it left was sour, thanks to Microsoft’s eggheaded policies for the Xbox One, along with the accompanying, high sticker price for the console.
So people were understandably anxious going into Microsoft’s E3 showing today. Phil Spencer had been hying the conference up for a while now, telling us that the emphasis would all be on ‘games, games, games,’ and while Microsoft has been making the right moves with Xbox One ever since Spencer took the helm a few months ago, there was still a general fear that old habits do die hard.
As it turns out, there needn’t have been. Microsoft’s E3 showing this year was great. There was no one standout moment, no one game that made you jump in your seat and scream ‘megaton!’ (really, the closest they got to that was an HD remaster of old games- but we’ll get to that in a bit), but the emphasis was in fact all on games- the big name AAA multiplats, first party games, old IPs, new IPs, DLC, indie games, the full range of ’em. Microsoft showed off a lot (in fact, one could argue they almost showed too much), and a lot of it was legitimately great. All said and done, E3 2014 was really a solid showing for Microsoft. It definitely was not their best ever, but it was a marked improvement over their E3 showings the last few years, and it definitely solidified the Xbox One as a worthy investment.
Phil Spencer started off the conference on the right note- he discussed how E3 was basically a great celebration of being a gamer, and he called out his ‘friends at Nintendo and Sony’ as other parties that would join in in this celebration. And after this brief prelude, he jumped right into the ‘games, games, games’ he had talked about.
The first game they showed off was, predictably enough, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Microsoft has made a habit of starting (or, in one rare occasion, ending) its pressers with Call of Duty, so this wasn’t a big surprise. In fact, it was even a little worrying, because it gave the impression that Microsoft was going to be relying on its traditional structure for its press showings this year too. So when they announced, yet again, that Xbox owners would be getting Advanced Warfare DLC first, people were once again a little apprehensive (in spite of how good the game itself had actually looked). Or, well, I can say that I was.
From Advanced Warfare, Microsoft took us through, in quick succession, Forza Horizon 2, which looks great, and seems to be building on the Drivetar social features that Forza Motorsport 5 debuted last year (speaking of Forza 5, it will also be getting some free tracks starting today); Assassin’s Creed Unity’s world premier, which looked predictably great, especially with what appeared to be its emphasis on dynamic drop in/drop out co-op multiplayer; Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac’s upcoming action adventure game for the Xbox One, which was probably the standout game of the conference, with its fun looking arcadey gameplay, and its self aware, meta sense of humor; Dead Rising 3, which is getting an equally self aware piece of DLC that channels a whole lot of classic Capcom characters.
Disney Fantasia, the upcoming Kinect based Disney themed rhythm game coming only to Xbox later this year (your mileage on how good or bad it looked will depend entirely on how much of a fan of Disney and/or rhythm games you are); Halo 5: Guardian (although only via CGI- no true gameplay), as well as the Halo Master Chief Collection, which includes Halo: Combat Evolved (the Anniversary version), Halo 2 (which got the full remaster treatment itself, with its original multiplayer mode preserved and updated as is), Halo 3, and Halo 4, coming out later this year, and also including a Halo 5 beta; Crackdown 3, the long awaited sequel to Microsoft’s open world franchise that looked simply great; Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Division (which surprisingly does not look downgraded), Dragon Age: Inquisition, Project Spark, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and capping it all off, Scalebound, a stylish looking action game developed exclusively for Xbox One by Platinum Games. Oh, and they threw in an entire segment highlighting the cool indie games coming to the Xbox One as well.
Really, it was all a great, solid conference, in spite of the absence of some Microsoft exclusives, such as Quantum Break and Gears of War. Microsoft paced it well, it never got boring, and they had all kinds of games on show, really showing off the full range of titles coming to their console in the coming two years. Sony may yet end up making a better impression on gamers simply if they have that one standout exclusive (which will probably be the rumored Project Beast), but Microsoft deserves props for having a well rounded lineup, that, more than anything else, indicates that they have in fact been paying attention to the criticisms that have been leveled at them.
Whether or not the Xbox One manages to change its pace of sales in the coming months and years is anybody’s guess, but as it stands today, Microsoft is certainly primed to pull off a veritable comeback very, very well. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can follow through on the promises they made today in the coming months.
The Good: Truly a constant barrage of games, covering all kinds and genres; no discussion of movies, music, media, TV, apps, Kinect, anything; some of their games looked great, such as Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection; world premier of some truly long awaited titles, such as Assassin’s Creed Unity, The Division, and Rise of the Tomb Raider
The Bad: There were almost too many announcements; no one standout ‘megaton’; some Microsoft exclusives, such as Quantum Break and Gears of War, were missing
The Verdict: Microsoft followed through on its promise to focus only on games, with its best E3 showing in years.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10