If you really want to think about it, Microsoft was handed the keys to this year’s E3 on a silver platter. Sony is flat out skipping E3, Nintendo is in the middle of a console cycle with most of its lineup for the year already announced, and most third parties are now saving their projects for next year, when the next generation of consoles is anticipated to launch.
Microsoft, though—they have an upcoming console they were expected to talk about, new projects from the studios they acquired last year, new studio acquisitions to announce, plus essentially they were going to be the hotbed for most third party publishers who neither have their own show, nor Sony’s to peddle their wares this year. Not to mention, they also had a bunch of games they have previously announced they could show off more of.
What I am trying to say, in theory and on paper, this year should have been a slam dunk home run for Xbox and Microsoft, and it… wasn’t. It really wasn’t. Because in spite of having all the ingredients in hand, Microsoft fumbled, and put out a well paced show that was utterly bland and lacked much substance for anyone to chew on or get excited over.
Phil Spencer took to the stage and promised 60 games for the Xbox show, 14 from Microsoft themselves. To Microsoft’s credit, they did show off that many games. The problem is we didn’t even get much exciting new stuff for the games we already knew about—mostly it was CG trailers for Borderlands 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2, you name it.
The big surprises at Microsoft’s show feasibly would have been the new FromSoftware game, Elden Ring, which they are working on alongside George RR Martin, the writer of A Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones), as well as Tales of Arise. And you know what, both of those are big announcements. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It’s just… those were leaked on Friday. That’s not Microsoft’s fault, it’s not in their control, but what might have been the bigger bombshells at their show were just… not.
The showing from Microsoft’s own first party was disappointing as well, though this time it wasn’t due to a lack of substance—Microsoft brought out quite a bit to show this time, from Gears 5, Minecraft Dungeons (a Minecraft Diablo-like), Bleeding Edge (Ninja Theory’s new 4v4 brawler), Battletoads (the revival announced last year that we finally got to see this year), Ori and the Will of the Wisps (looking good as always), and Halo: Infinite. This isn’t counting new expansions they had on hand for Forza Horizon 4 or State of Decay 2 either.
But here, again, we have problems—for instance, Ori looking good was punctured by it releasing next year. Gears 5’s showing was… bizarre. We got a weird trippy trailer that was more of a mugshot with a monologue over it, and then the announcement of the release date (which was leaked already), and a new gameplay mode, albeit no gameplay footage at all. So that was… good.
Consider Halo Infinite. We got confirmation that Microsoft will be Breath of the Wilding it, which was expected, but we didn’t get to see any gameplay footage. There was a cool cutscene from presumably the start of the game, and it looked cool, but it cuts off right before we get to the gameplay. We’ve heard for so long that Infinite makes amends for Halo 4 and Guardians, both of which jilted long time fans of the series, and there have been rumors of RPG mechanics and an open world in the game, but if there is a reimagining that radical coming up, we didn’t get to see it. We didn’t get to see anything.
This is a theme, I’m sure you’re noticing. Yes, it’s cool to have a checklist of cool games and announcements, but only when that checklist is substantiated by actual, meaningful material to justify its inclusion in the first place. Would we have lost anything had we not seen those new trailers for most of the games shown in Microsoft’s conference, first or third party? Even indie titles only got short non-gameplay trailers for the most part.
Arguably the coup-de-grace for Microsoft should have been the section where they talked about the next generation Xbox. Project Scarlett, revealed to the world at last. And hey, it was cool. We obviously didn’t get to see it. We didn’t even get a name, or much in the way of concrete specs. We got some idea of what Microsoft plans, which seems to be along the same lines as Sony and the PS5, including a focus on an SSD. It was fine, and Xbox fans, I am sure, will have something to chew on with Microsoft giving them something concrete rather than the rumors swirling in the murky realms of speculation. But again, it was just a… thing. This new Xbox doesn’t exist yet, it’s not out for another year and a half, and while I appreciated Microsoft’s subtle snark towards Sony with this announcement, on the whole it felt a bit unearned, because there’s, to repeat myself, not much substance backing it up.
Even the section where they announced a new studio acquisition wasn’t all that exciting. The new studio is Double Fine, which is obviously a great get for Microsoft, I won’t pretend otherwise, but given that it is the sixth one in a year, the novelty has worn off, especially because we’re seeing the acquisitions, but it will be a while before we see the new games that come out of them.
So, where are we with this? We’re at the point where we can call the show fairly disappointing. I can easily see people finding it fairly enjoyable, because it was well paced, and it did cover a lot of content. My issue is that the pacing and content ultimately both encompassed substance that was skin deep, if that. There was nothing of meaning to this show. We had a 90 minute long E3 presser by Microsoft, and it could have been half that time and nothing would have been lost.
Coming into this E3, I said this show was Microsoft’s to lose. We’re yet to see if they “lost”, but given that they were scarcely more enjoyable than whatever it is that EA had to show earlier, I can’t say they are off to a good start.
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