Microsoft enters this year’s E3 as the underdog but what surprises await us?
It’s that time of you-know-what where that-thing-that’s-done is happening at that place. Honestly, it’s been only a handful of years covering E3 but each year feels like a proverbial warzone. The event is only really the beginning with constant updates and excessive developments. In some ways, it’s a catalyst for the year that will follow and so we come to E3 2016.
This year is odd, primarily because Microsoft’s strategy feels unclear. We all know the joke about the TV and sports and fish AI but the last two years have been pretty solid for the house that built Xbox. Last year was exceptionally good, especially when it came to future reveals since there was assurance that most of these titles would be releasing in the near future. The focus remained on games. The problem is, it wasn’t quite enough to aid the company in securing a lead over the PS4. In fact, despite arguably more releases in 2016, Sony has pulled well ahead of Microsoft in the console race.
So what’s the plan this year? More games? That will always be on the menu and honestly, more games are good. But rumours have been swelling. Expectations have been building. What can you possibly expect at Microsoft’s E3 2016 presser? Let’s touch in the main points.
Scorpio and Slim
Despite reports of the PS4 NEO which will compliment rather than replace the base model, it’s ironically Microsoft that’s garnered the most attention with rumours of its upgraded consoles. Or rather consoles in general since according to source, an Xbox One Slim will be releasing this year while a redesigned and souped up version of the console codenamed Scorpio is out next year. So far, so salty in terms of how you should be taking rumours. But that’s not all.
According to these sources, Microsoft will also be releasing Chromecast-esque and Apple TV-esque Xbox attachments, presumably for streaming media in homes. And it also seems the vaunted Xbox One controller is also going in for a redesign when the Xbox 1.5 – the slim version – debuts. Which console has 4K support? With rumours of the Xbox 2 aka Scorpio being compatible with VR and a VR game in development (not to mention Microsoft reportedly courting Oculus), what will E3 2016 hold in terms of surprises?
Overall, one can hope that this isn’t simply a knee-jerk reaction to what Sony’s doing. It takes more than better hardware to succeed and hopefully Microsoft is working on facilitating more games for its console.
The First Party
If there’s one thing Microsoft does have going for its console, it’s the first party support. Last year hyped up a number of great games for the future including Scalebound, Crackdown 3, ReCore, Sea of Thieves, Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2. The problem now is information.
Scalebound was delayed into early 2017, which is understandable given its massive scope. Crackdown 3 and ReCore haven’t really had a ton of details going about. Same goes for Sea of Thieves. Wasn’t Crackdown 3 supposed to be all revolutionary with its open world destruction and cloud computing capabilities? We heard a whole lot about that at GDC 2015 with the promise of a multiplayer demo in the Summer but nothing’s emerged just yet. Gears of War 4 had its multiplayer beta roughly a month ago but it’s the campaign which draws the most interest.
And there’s that something else that 343 Industries was teasing recently. It’s probably Halo related. Why mention it alongside Halo 5 updates and Halo Wars 2 if it wasn’t? Forza Horizon 3 will also likely be announced because duh.
Here’s the thing – Microsoft doesn’t have an awful line-up of games for this year. It just needs more. For all of its prolonged development cycles and constant delays, Sony does have the upper hand for 2016. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Ratchet & Clank were both great. Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last Guardian are out this year. Gran Turismo Sport will follow. Other titles like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Media Molecule’s Dreams and so on will continue to be hyped. Sony may not have had the most number of releases last year but it’s seemingly making up for it this year. And that’s counting the unannounced games that are presumably waiting in the wings.
How does Microsoft counter that? That’s a good question if ever there was one. Not that Sony is on top of the world or anything (it has its own unique set of problems) but Microsoft has its work cut out for it in making me care about the line-up between this year’s E3 and next year.
Quality of Life
Another area where Microsoft has seemingly slowed down is in its quality of life updates for the Xbox One. Maybe that’s because it intends to shift to Scorpio more next year? Regardless, there’s a big difference between last year – which saw the release of backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games, dedicated servers for party chat and a revamp of the entire UI – and this year where we’ve gotten the odd few improvements to Achievement tracking, multi-disc support for backwards compatible titles and being able to see who’s in a party.
If anything, the focus has been more on integrating the Xbox One into the Windows 10 framework via cross-platform titles. Not that this is a big deal but it’s a bigger deal for PC players than console gamers. Coming out with significant updates to the UI is no easy feat but hopefully this E3 will see something, anything interesting. We expect to see a number of Xbox One titles carrying the tagline of also heading to Windows 10. That won’t be shocking and it hopefully won’t be a major focus for Microsoft. That being said, there is the rumoured Project Helix, an initiative between Xbox One and Windows 10. Whether really shakes things up remains to be seen.
All in all, E3 2016 is shaping up to be something special. The jury is out on just how well it could pan out for Microsoft but there is stuff in the pipeline. There are plenty of big developments that could come true. And really, at the end of the day if there are fun games to play, everyone wins.