Microsoft is the only platform holder at E3 2019 to have a live press conference, after Sony decided to skip the show. This year was the chance for Microsoft to show the world what is in store for Xbox’s future and bask in glory in the absence of its main competitor. Did Microsoft deliver at E3 2019? Yes… and no.
Phil Spencer tweeted that the conference would show 14 Xbox Studios games, which admittedly sounds like a lot, but many speculated that the wording was loose, meaning that DLC for existing games would fall under that umbrella. Turns out, that was exactly the case. Forza Horizon 4 was announced to be getting a ‘LEGO Speed Champions’ expansion, as well as State of Decay 2 receiving a new expansion called ‘Heartland’. Additionally, The Outer Worlds was the first trailer shown during the conference, a multiplatform game. Since Obsidian Entertainment is now part of Xbox Game Studios, that trailer certainly seemed to count as one of the 14. I am sure many people were hoping that Xbox would reveal more original IP.
The only newly announced Xbox Game Studios IP was Bleeding Edge, which had already leaked a few days before the press conference. Many players were impressed by Ninja Theory’s previous game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and were expecting a single-player, narrative-driven experience from the studio again, especially since Microsoft’s portfolio of first-party titles lacks such. While Rahni Tucker and Dom Matthews from Ninja Theory emphasized the point that this game was in development before Microsoft’s acquisition, that did not stop hot takes about how the company negatively influenced the studio by creating another multiplayer, games-as-a-service title. However, Microsoft did announce the acquisition of a new studio, Double Fine Productions, the team behind Psychonauts 2. Now, Microsoft has more studios under its belt than Sony, but, after a while, Microsoft needs to slow down the shopping spree and show us what these studios are capable of. Otherwise, what is the point of these acquisitions?
Another disappointing aspect of Xbox’s conference was the lack of gameplay. While we did receive gameplay trailers for Ori and the Will of the Wisps and the energetic Battletoads, none of the games actually had people playing them. Moreover, Microsoft only showed a cinematic trailer for its biggest release this year: Gears 5. Ironically, this trailer had less gameplay than its reveal trailer last year at E3 2018, which is baffling considering that the game releases in three months. In addition, much of the third-party support in Xbox’s conference came in form of cinematic trailers for games such as Cyberpunk 2077 (though that Keanu Reaves cameo was amazing), Dying Light 2, and Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Admittedly, the conference had some nice surprises, such as Phantasy Star Online 2 finally releasing in the United States (sorry, Europe), and Remedy Entertainment bringing CrossFireX to Xbox first. While not Microsoft’s fault, unfortunately, announcements such as Tales of Arise, Borderlands 2’s DLC, and George R. R. Martin and Hidetaki Miyazaki’s game Elden Ring, were leaked ahead of time, spoiling the reveals.
However, on the hardware and services side, Xbox seems to be faring better. Microsoft announced Xbox Game Pass for PC, as well as a killer subscription in Game Pass Ultimate. Microsoft also detailed more about its console streaming plans, in which the Xbox One will be the player’s personal and free xCloud server. Players will be able to use Microsoft’s hybrid cloud service in October. Microsoft also provided information about its next generation console, emphasizing its purpose of playing games, which is an opposite approach to the original Xbox One’s reveal that focused mostly on entertainment and TV. The next generation console was officially revealed as Project Scarlett and will support 8K resolution, up to 120fps, ray-tracing, and variable refresh rate. The next generation box will also support all four generations of Xbox consoles, which highlights Microsoft’s already impressive commitment to backwards compatibility. While only presenting another, albeit, impressive cinematic trailer, Halo Infinite will launch alongside Project Scarlett in holiday 2020.
Overall, I enjoyed Microsoft’s E3 2019 conference, but I cannot lie and say it completely blew me away. Unfortunately, the rumored Fable 4 from Playground Games was nowhere to be seen, as many were hoping for the game to be revealed at the very end of the conference in a “one more thing” fashion. Understandably, Xbox Game Studios fully revealing what it is working on will take some time, as the majority of the acquisitions took place within the last year. However, we come back to the same excuse: “maybe next year.” Microsoft either seems not ready to show any new AAA exclusives or is holding back for a big blow out during E3 2020, when the company will most likely reveal the full details of Project Scarlett, its game line-up, and cloud services. Oh well, maybe next year!