E3 2019: Microsoft Press Briefing

For the past two years at E3, Microsoft has made some substantial promises, from putting an overall more significant emphasis on gaming on their Xbox platform as opposed to the myriad other entertainment functions it possesses to more specifically increasing their first-party titles on the console. In many ways, they’ve been making good on these promises to gamers, but the sad truth is that they’ve been playing from behind since jump street and had to fight to regain the trust and respect of the gaming community for a while now. This year appears to keep with the trend Microsoft set last year by focusing almost exclusively on games developed under their first-party, Xbox Game Studios development umbrella. The tech giant opened its E3 press briefing with a trailer for a game that has been anticipated for some time now, and in development for longer, The Outer Worlds. The game gives off a mix of Prey, Dishonored, and maybe a dash of Borderlands with its colorful palate and over-the-top mechanics. We’ll likely be seeing more about this title ahead of its October 25 release date this fall.

Last year, Microsoft announced that they would be bringing a host of development teams under their Xbox Game Studios umbrella, much in a similar way that Sony has their collective of first-party developers for their PlayStation platform. Of these acquisitions, one of the most interesting and exciting was that of Ninja Theory. Creative Director Rahni Tucker and Dom Matthews, the studio’s Commercial Director, came on stage to reiterate their enthusiasm for being a part of Microsoft’s new drive for first-party content. The pair noted that they’re currently working on a slew of new titles for the Xbox platform, and then gave the audience a first look at their upcoming title that they’ve had in development for apparently several years, Bleeding Edge. If the formerly mentioned title had a dash of Borderlands in its inspiration, this game looks to have knocked the entire salt shaker into the mix. This game screams Borderlands, and a third-person brawler like Anarchy Reigns (does anyone else remember that game?) and the entirely over-the-top character designs and personalities only cements that sentiment. There’s a lot of pedigree in this 4v4 brawler game’s development, as Ninja Theory is behind such titles as Heavenly Sword, Hellblade, Devil May Cry, and more. Additionally, the same combat director for Devil May Cry was in charge of combat for this game, so expectations should be high where the quality of high octane action is concerned. Bleeding Edge has a technical alpha test beginning on June 27th, which means it will likely see a late 2019 release.

As stated above, for some time now, Microsoft has been sorely lacking in the first-party content department. Xbox fans love Forza, Halo, and Gears of War (and rightfully so, as they are some of the very best their respective genres have to offer), but those games are usually on a several 3-4 year development cycles, and that is a long time to go between releases of games for which you consider worth buying a given platform. A rare standout title in the Xbox library has been Ori and the Blind Forest, a gorgeously animated side-scrolling adventure for the platform. Last year, Microsoft briefly teased that a follow-up Ori title was in the works, and now we’ve been given a closer look at the new game. Many believe side-scrolling platformers to be a genre of yesteryear, even given the prevalence of games such as New Super Mario Bros. and Rayman, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps (long title) looks to be nothing short of stunning entertainment.

One of Microsoft’s most significant acquisitions in recent years has been the Minecraft property, and while the franchise itself remains multi-platform in all of its various forms, its development has seen major push and expansion since finding a new central hub at Microsoft Game Studios. Minecraft has always had a fairly broad appeal. However, not everyone wants to spend hours on end meticulously (or monotonously depending on how you look at it) crafting an entire world. Xbox Game Studio’s solution to this is Minecraft Dungeons. Full disclosure: I am not a Minecraft guy (nobody got time for that), but what I am is a Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, Gauntlet guy, and this looks to be precisely in that same vein, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Additionally, this could be the gateway for many younger players to get into the dungeon-crawling RPG genre, so I see only a win-win here. We got to see the first-time footage of 4-player co-op gameplay that involved carving a path of pixilated destruction through numerous dungeon scenarios while upgrading and customizing your characters and gear. Minecraft + Diablo? Yes, please!

Since taking over as the Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer has taken great strides to reassure the fanbase that he is doing everything in his power to make the platform the very best it can be. Gamers’ belief in his sincerity with that mission shines through in the standing ovation he received when he walked out on stage to continue Microsoft’s briefing. Spencer’s opening statements doubled-down on their goal of uniting gamers through pushing cross-platform play, expanding their library of games, enhancing their already robust online service, and innovating with their hardware. Noting that this briefing was to be the single most extensive showcase of games on any stage anywhere in the world in 2019 (by technicality, as Sony opted out of E3 this year), Spencer revealed that they would be showing off over 60 new games on stage that afternoon, including 14 new exclusive games through Xbox Game Studios. But pep talks are just that, and the point is to see the latest projects coming down the pipeline, so just as Phil Spencer said before drawing the audience’s attention back to the screen: let’s Jump In.

Among others, one of the biggest criticisms of EA’s handling of the Star Wars property where video games are concerned is the notable lack of a genuinely gripping single-player game. For all of its initial controversies, Star Wars Battlefront II’s game mechanics were rock solid, so the underwhelming single-player campaign stung more than it otherwise would have when it was clear that effort could have been put into it. EA and Respawn Entertainment recently unveiled the next video game adventure in a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, which promises to be a real, fully fleshed-out single-player experience. Fallen Order takes place between the prequel trilogy and Star Wars: Rogue One, and follows a young Force user by the name of Cal Kestis, who has been in hiding until an accident forces him to reveal his powers. This puts him directly in the crosshairs of the Empire, which is far from a desirable place to be. The gameplay looks every bit as crisp as Battlefront II’s was, if not more so, and the visuals are breathtaking. Respawn has a reasonably solid track record, and at least so far, the franchise’s first significant single-player outing since last gen’s Force Unleashed titles appears to be in capable hands. Cal Kestis’ words in the new footage will hopefully carry real-world weight to them, “The Jedi are not yet lost. Hope is not yet lost.” We’ll see on November 15 of this year.

Horror games have received some special attention in recent years, which mirrors the ever-growing film market of the same genre. Games such as The Evil Within, Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2, and Outlast have terrified gamers worldwide. Outlast, in particular, was unnervingly horrifying, and this new project finds itself in the same territory. In 1999, The Blair Witch Project kicked off the found footage style of filmmaking, inspiring numerous movies and video games to take a similar approach. Now, the supernatural franchise comes to consoles and is sure to cause gamers brave enough to play it many a heart-racing moment.

Some developers just don’t know how to put out games of low quality and possess excellent track records with their projects and equally positive rapport with their fans. CD Projekt Red is one of these top-tier developers, and nothing embodies this more than the Game of the Year Award-winning Witcher III: Wild Hunt. The open-world fantasy RPG has been a crown jewel of this console generation, offering countless hours of exploration, hunting, and overall enjoyment. So when the studio announced that they were going to take a break from the Witcher franchise following their excellent DLC expansion content to begin a new property, fans were eager. Cyberpunk 2077 is that new project and has been hotly anticipated ever since its initial teaser. CD Projekt Red has remained tight-lipped about the game since then, but now we finally have some real footage to sink our collective teeth into. The game is visually stunning; that cannot be understated. Even more exciting than the prospect of a vast, open, future world with branching storylines and a customizable character, is the reveal that Keanu Reeves is a part of the project as a supporting character in the game’s story. Reeves, who has been blowing up all over again with the release of John Wick: Chapter 3, came out on stage to give the audience, and viewers around the world, what we’ve been dying to know: a hard release date for the game. Cyberpunk 2077 will be releasing April 16 of next year.

Next up was a game to cool off the audience from the excitement of Cyberpunk 2077, with gameplay reminiscent of Shante meets Terraria, Spiritfarer. The trailer for this game was brief, but it looks to be a relaxing and endearing experience by Thunder Lotus. Following that relaxing experience is a game that will be sure to be quite the opposite. Que the memes from the early 2000s, because Battletoads is coming back with a 3-player couch co-op battling mayhem experience that is sure to result in countless gamers making trips to their store to replace their rage-quit-annihilated controllers. Battletoads is side-scrolling brawling at its finest (or most infuriating, depending on how you look at it), and soon enough every 12-year-old who still thinks they’re cool prank calling a GameStop and asking for the old Nintendo Entertainment System game is going to have another thing coming. The Legend of Wright keeps with the theme of more nuanced indie titles for the more casual gamer with a blend of adventure and puzzling gameplay all under a unique, sketch animation visual style. Team Xbox is making a strong push for indie titles as they showed off a brief video that highlighted some of the many new titles coming soon to Xbox Game Pass as part of their ID @ Xbox strategy. These titles, along with every single Xbox Game Studios game, will also be premiering on day one on the Game Pass program, as stated by Head of Xbox Partnerships Sarah Bond. Furthermore, Bond announced the new titles being added to Game Pass this month: Batman: Arkham Knight, Metro Exodus, Hollow Knight, and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, as well as announcing that Xbox Game Pass will officially be available on PC starting today.

Microsoft Flight Simulator brings a genre typically relegated to the PC market to Xbox One with beautiful visuals that are some of the most realistic yet seen, further cementing Microsoft’s desire to make their games playable any time and anywhere, while Age of Empires II Definitive Edition brings one of the most popular strategy games to the console as well, with remastered audio and a brand new campaign. Wasteland 3 promises to bring more of the zany, strategy gameplay that the franchise is known for, and the narration for the short gameplay trailer shows that the game will be a campy one. Head of Xbox Game Studios, Matt Booty came out on stage to talk about their acquisition of 7 new development teams to the Xbox Game Studios family this year, and to announce the addition of Double Fine Productions to that growing collective. You may recall some of Double Fine’s marquee titles in Psychonauts and Brutal Legend; both games that were as fun as they were completely out there. Founder and president of Double Fine Productions Tim Schafer then came out on stage to crack a few jokes, but more importantly to show off a new trailer for Psychonauts 2! Anyone who played the original back on the first Xbox console will remember just how wacky this game is set up to be alongside its third-person action-platforming adventure gameplay. This game is Destroy All Humans meets Alice: Madness Returns and is sure to be a hit.

Fans of the various Lego games, and, more specifically, Lego Star Wars, will be excited to know that Traveler’s Tales is working on a new compilation in Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which will include all nine films from the separate trilogies. As Star Wars: Episode IX is due out this winter, we’ll be getting this complete collection sometime next year. 12 Minutes lets you experience being trapped in a time loop as a man who has just found out that his wife is being accused of murder. You will relive the same twelve minute over and over until the mystery is solved. Fans of thrillers should be particularly excited about this little gem. Way to the Woods is a cell-shaded indie that puts you in control of a faun and its father as you try to make your way back home to the forest. The game looks very niche, but at the same time uses simple yet smart puzzle mechanics and brilliant lighting effects to immerse you into its world.

This host of ID @ Xbox titles are all well and good, but gamers don’t buy an Xbox console for indie titles – they buy one for the big AAA exclusives, and the Gears of War franchise has been a mainstay on the platform from its first entry on the Xbox 360. Gears of War 5 continues the new story that started in Gears of War 4 and Studio Head for The Coalition Rod Fergusson came on stage to tell players that not only will Gears of War 5 release on September 10 of this year, but anyone who gets the Ultimate Edition or has an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription will get 4-day early access. Rod promised new modes and ways to fight The Swarm via unique character abilities, as well as the largest campaign in franchise history, and then showed off a cinematic trailer for the new game mode complete with on-brand gory glory. Also announced was a pre-order bonus, the Terminator: Dark Fate character pack.

Few accessories are more important than the right controller, and Microsoft’s Xbox One Elite wireless controller has remained top dog in this space on its platform. But just as hardware is in need of a tune-up every once in a blue moon, accessories should too, and Microsoft revealed the first look at the newly redesigned Series 2 Elite Controller, boasting additional customization options, more preset profiles, a third, shorter trigger-lock, and an internal battery with up to 40 hours of gameplay life per charge. Aesthetically, it also received a fine-tuning, with a wrap-around rubberized diamond grip and grips on the triggers as well. This updated high-end gaming controller will be a must-have peripheral for players on both Xbox One and PC.

Spring 2020 is shaping up to be a hot time for new releases, as Dying Light 2 finally has a soft release date. The brief teaser trailer showed shots of the game’s signature parkour gameplay, as well as a bird’s eye view of the sequel’s setting, putting us in the shoes of an infected Aiden as he tries to survive and fight back against not only the monsters who walk the earth but the humans who have started reducing their actions to that of animals. E3 has become synonymous with new Forza content, and 2019’s show is no exception to this. Creative Director at Playground Games, Ralph Fulton announced the all-new “Lego: Speed Champions” expansion for Forza Horizon 4. The expansion will bring the playful fun of Lego’s world-famous bricks to the precision driving of the Forza franchise this week. Sticking with the theme of adding a cuteness factor to existing Xbox properties, Gears Pop! combines the mature franchise with collectible manufacturing giant Funko to create a mobile strategy game that will be available on both iOS and Android.

Zombie games are far from being in short supply, but State of Decay has done a great job of setting itself apart with its focus on choice and level of difficulty, and State of Decay 2 built upon that solid foundation. Now, they are releasing a massive expansion they’re calling “Heartland” that will tell two new stories by following two separate protagonists as they attempt to survive and rebuild in this infected world. Even more exciting, however, is the reveal that Sega’s online JRPG, Phantasy Star Online 2, is going to be coming to the West on Xbox One for the first time. Phantasy Star Online 2 is among the most popular online RPGs of all time, and fans of previous installments have been clamoring for a Western release of the latest one for some time now. Phil Spencer also announced Smilegate’s popular PC title, Crossfire X, as coming to consoles exclusively on Xbox One, and the cinematic trailer that followed looks promising.

Bandai Namco has been known as the premiere JRPs developer out of Japan for years now, and of all their great titles, none is more iconic or beloved than the Tales of franchise. We recently received the Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition, which brought one of the most popular entries in the franchise to current-gen consoles, complete with a host of new content. Tales of is known for its beautiful anime style, but the newly announced Tales of Arise shows that the team behind it felt it was time for an upgrade. The trailer shows a stunningly beautiful open world, rendered with markedly more detail than any other entry in franchise history. The attack effects have also been cranked up in their detail and flair, and the character models look clean in their new animated/realism hybrid. This is my favorite JRPG franchise, and my excitement for this game cannot be understated. 2020 can’t come quickly enough.

Borderlands 3 is out this fall on September 13, and the hype for this long-awaited sequel is real. But not only is Gearbox looking to bring their A-game with that new title, but they are also dropping new DLC for Borderlands 2! This new expansion, which will be free for anyone who already owns a copy of the Borderlands: Handsome Collection, is called Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary and sets the stage for Borderlands 3’s story.

Some gamers like a good challenge. Other gamers enjoy breaking countless controllers because they love games that are stupid-hard. From Software is one of those developers that understands this balance and has been giving players headaches and rewarding moments since Demon Souls and has continued to do so with the Dark Souls franchise, Bloodborne, and, most recently, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Rumors have been circulating as to what the developer’s next controller-busting project would be, and many expected a follow-up to Bloodborne. While that may still be a possibility in the future, what they teased at E3 was something unexpected. That reveal was Elden Ring, and while no details were given beyond the teaser trailer, it looks to have a more high-fantasy/Nordic feel to it which would definitely set it apart visually from their prior projects.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 kicked off the current generation of consoles back in holiday 2013, and while both platforms have received tweaks and half-step upgrades (most recently the powerhouse Xbox One X), gamers have been aware that a new generation is impending. Phil Spencer came back on stage to divulge just a few more details about Microsoft’s next console, which will not be out until holiday 2020, Project Scarlett. This new system, which will purportedly boast four times the power of the Xbox One X, 8k graphics, and up to 120fps, will be designed solely with gaming in mind. As impressive as current models are now, this next generation is looking to be comparatively a more substantial leap forward than any other new generation before it by using a custom AMD processor. The goal behind all of this tech? Team Xbox wants games to look measurably better than ever before, run smoother and cleaner than ever before, and drastically reduce or altogether eliminate load times (that last one was a claim made by Sony for the PlayStation 4 at its initial reveal, and we all know full well that load times are very much still a thing, especially for those of us who play RPGs). Additionally, Microsoft is designing a brand new generation of solid-state drives optimized explicitly for the new console that will put out 40x the performance rates of the current generation of hardware. Most exciting is Microsoft’s commitment to keeping your library of games growing, and will be retaining their current model of backward compatibility. This means that all of those original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One titles that you love so much will carry forward to Project Scarlett and run immensely better than ever before.

When one thinks of the Xbox family of consoles, it’s reasonable to think first and foremost of Halo. Last year, Microsoft teased 343 Industries’ next outing with the Master Chief, Halo: Infinite, and we now have a new cinematic trailer for the game. We still have no gameplay reveal, but at this point that isn’t surprising, as Phil Spencer announced that the aforementioned Project Scarlet would launch with Halo: Infinite. What the trailer did give us, however, was the tone we can expect from the game, and that’s one of desperation and loss, but a remaining flicker of hope. Halo 5 disappointed the lion’s share of fans, but just as “Humanity is worth saving,” so too is this marquee franchise.

I’m not sure if I would say that Microsoft hit a home run with this year’s press conference, but they showed that they were swinging for the fences. There was plenty of great game reveals, but very few of the ones worthy of note were anything shocking, and at this point, I think most of us expected them to talk at least a bit about the next generation of hardware. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020, but 2019 has been fairly barren thus far, and not much has been revealed to truly change that sentiment, so if I were to give Microsoft a grade for this year’s press briefing, it would be a B-.

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