Microsoft decided to skip out on having a Gamescom event as big as Sony this year. In a way, that might have been good, because they avoided the hype that Sony’s conference got. But it was also because they were rightly afraid they didn’t have all that much to talk about. They didn’t. They had some meaningful announcements to make about the Xbox One, they announced a couple of new, moderately interesting looking games, and they announced a killer deal that should help the Xbox brand gain some traction in Europe, but there wasn’t much in way of major new announcements, if that’s what you wanted.
So let’s start with the good stuff- Microsoft confirmed self publishing for indie developers and games on the Xbox One (a major change from their stance on the Xbox 360, and on the Xbox One when it was initially announced in May); they seem to be really eager to get any indie developers they may have pissed off earlier back at their sides, and they are offering them full access to the Xbox One and its functions, as well as free dev kits, to reach out to them.
Speaking of indie games, they went ahead and showed off Cobalt, Mojang’s new game, announced exclusively for Xbox One and Xbox 360 (which is as bad as announcing something ‘exclusively for PS Vita and PlayStation 4, but I digress). Considering how big Mojang’s last title was (it was Minecraft, for those not in the know), especially on the Xbox 360, this is probably a good, well thought out move by Microsoft, one with some surprising foresight.
Other ‘small’ games that Microsoft focused on were Plants vs Zombies 2: Garden Warfare (sequel to the incredible iOS and Android game, Plants vs Zombies, also coming to Xbox One) and Peggle; I have no doubt that, just as with all the indie games that Sony was focusing on during their conference, these will be good, but really guys? Is this how you sell me on your upcoming $500 next generation machine, by showing me ports of mobile games?
Thankfully, Microsoft did move on to show off some big guns. Albeit big guns that are third party, not exclusive, and that we have already seen at previous events (I’m noticing a pattern in how both, the Microsoft and Sony events went this year at Gamescom)- they showed off The Division, the excellent new IP Ubisoft debuted at their E3 presser this year, but they showed it with a unique hook- asymetrical gameplay ala Wii U via the Xbox SmartGlass. While not enough to make you want an Xbox One just for the SmartGlass features, they might be enough to make you want to pick up the Xbox One version over, say, the PlayStation 4 version.
Speaking of Ubisoft, they also took time out to show off Fighter Within, their Kinect based fighting game that was leaked yesterday. It looked pretty stupid to me, actually, and I don’t know why they wasted their time, either on showing it to us or in developing it in the first place. Who thought we needed it at all?
While we are on the subject of Kinect, Microsoft showed off Kinect Sports Rivals. Don’t ask me why. It looks like more Kinect Sports, although it looks like the game is benefiting from the increased accuracy and fidelity that the Xbox One Kinect provides. There’s also a neat, but ultimately useless, new feature which allows the game to use Kinect to scan you and then recreate you within the game.
Microsoft also, predictably, spent time on Call of Duty: Ghosts. The game looks just as it did back in May and June. If you liked what they had to show then, you will like it now. If you hated it then, you’ll hate it now. It’s more Call of Duty, and it’s got no pretensions about being anything else. This section of the conference did, however, have one very interesting tidbit- Ghosts on Xbox One would have dedicated servers ‘thanks to the Xbox Cloud,’ unlike any other version of the game (barring PC). They didn’t talk about whether this would be the norm for all Xbox One games, obviously, but it presents an exciting possibility if it is.
Microsoft announced one new game from their first parties- Fable Legends. It’s a new game in the Fable universe, but it is again a departure from the norm, being an online four player co-op game. Like with all Fable games, this is also being helmed by Lionhead, and it will also support Xbox SmartGlass. I can safely say that the game looked like it might be some harmless fun. At the very least, it looked better than Fable: The Journey, the misguided all Kinect Fable game Lionhead released last year.
Possibly the most major part of Microsoft’s conference was when they focused on FIFA. Back when the Xbox One was announced in May, Microsoft talked about ‘exclusive content’ for the Xbox One version of FIFA 14, but until now, the extent of that exclusive content was not clear. Until now.
FIFA 14 gets the Ultimate Team Legends mode exclusively on Xbox One. Considering a) how big FIFA is worldwide, and especially in Europe, and b) how big the Ultimate Team modes are, and how they constitute a major chunk of FIFA players’ play time, this is a very big deal, and it might help Microsoft solidify its position in Europe, and fend Sony off in the few EU markets it does hold, like UK and Germany.
Microsoft also went ahead and confirmed another rumor from yesterday- yes, every Xbox One in Europe gets FIFA 14 free. Again, a big deal that, alongside the exclusive content on the system, might help sell the Xbox One in Europe in spite of the steep price. The caveat is that this applies only to pre-orders, not to regular store pick ups.
Ultimately, Microsoft focused on selling the Xbox One to the audience it was pitching it too. They showed off a healthy mix of firth and third party games, but they had nothing new. They had two major announcements that certainly make the console more appealing (indie self publishing and FIFA) but all said and done, I wish they’d announced more of those exclusives that Phil Harrison keeps telling us about.
THE GOOD: Showed off a healthy mix of games, SmartGlass looks great, FIFA 14 exclusive content and bundling, indie self publishing
THE BAD: No new major game announcements beyond a Fable spin off and the next Mojang game