Reviewing Microsoft’s E3 2016 Press Conference

Coming in to E3, I said that Microsoft needed to surprise me.  I said that they had a good but predictable lineup and that I needed something more.  With the announcement of Project Scorpio at the end of the conference, they surprised me by how strong of a position they are in going forward.

Before I get into the conference, I want to mention two things.  First, props to Microsoft, Sony, and Ubisoft for all taking time to mention the Orlando shooting at the top of their shows.  It was real classy, and all three of them came across as genuine.  This isn’t also a condemnation of EA and Bethesda for not doing it, it’s just a shout out to the other three for doing it.  The other, much lighter, thing is that the camera work in this press conference was terrible.  The Gears 4, ReCore, and Dead Rising presentations all hurt from this the most, but all of the games were hindered by the camera constantly pulling out to show the crowd.  When there is a game on stage, you show that game full screen.  It was really distracting, and I had to watch some of the trailers a second time after the show to see what was happening in them.

Microsoft started the show by announcing the Xbox One S.  It is significantly smaller than the current Xbox One and that’s cool.  I think announcing it as $299 when that’s only for the 500GB version is kinda deceitful, but making a smaller Xbox One makes sense at this point.

The first game shown was Gears of War 4.  I came into this conference down on Gears 4, and I’m leaving it slightly less down.  The demo was impressive.  The environmental effects of both the wind and the lighting were great looking and seemed to have real gameplay purposes.  But at the end of the day, it is truly another Gears of War game, and Gears of War feels like a franchise that should have stayed on the Xbox 360.  This feeling was only exacerbated by the reveal of Marcus Fenix at the end.  I’m sure the game will be good, but I’m not sure anybody will care.  They ended with a trailer for a custom Gears Elite Controller which looks nice if you’re a big Gears fan.

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Sticking with the Gears theme, they went on to announce that General Raam is coming to Killer Instinct Season 3.  It was cool to see KI get back on the stage this year because that game is going strong, and I liked that the trailer recreated the scene from Gears of War where Raam kills Kim.

Then came what in my opinion was the best game in the conference.  Forza Horizon 3 looks incredible.  Horizon 2 was a great game, and the new one looks to be changing things up a lot while keeping the same core gameplay.  The setting in Australia looks diverse with jungle, beaches, desert, and some more urban environments.  It also introduces more off-road vehicles, bringing us closer and closer to the perfect combination of Forza and MotorStorm.  Both the trailer and the demo that followed just had this really fun vibe, and I can’t wait to dive into the game.

This was followed by a trailer and release date for ReCore.  This trailer also had a really great sense of style.  I’ll start by saying that technically the game looks somewhat rough, but I wasn’t expecting much from Armature on that front.  It was hard to get a sense for the gameplay or the overall design philosophy of the game, but the core idea of using different robots to get through environments and fight enemies is still promising, and what they showed of the level design seemed to take full advantage of it.  The $40 price tag on it is smart too.

This was followed by a bit of a lull in the conference, starting with the worst demo of E3.  Final Fantasy XV was on stage, and what they showed looked terrible.  I still think this game could be cool, but this was not a good demo.  It started in the middle of a boss fight that didn’t look too engaging anyways, and to add to this either the controller broke or the guy on stage messed up.  This showing was embarrassing and is why so many developers don’t do live demos.

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They showed a short trailer for The Division DLC.  I don’t care about the Division, and I don’t know how many people still do.  The trailer was alright though and didn’t take too much time.

They then did something inexplicable.  They showed the same Battlefield 1 trailer that EA showed twice at their conference.  I have no problem with games being shown at multiple conferences, but at least show something new.  We saw a fairly average trailer three times at E3, and I have no idea why.

Mike Ybarra came on stage to announce some new features coming to the next big Xbox One software update.  This includes background music, clubs, and looking for group.  None of these are big innovations, but Microsoft should do them.  I also like breaks like this in a press conference.  It’s just a shame that it came right in the middle of the worst part of the show.

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In continuing the theme of updating old things, Minecraft was on stage.  I’m not trying to say anything bad about the people presenting the game, but they had very over-produced press conference voices.  It made the segment almost unbearable at some points.  And also, I don’t need to see a big Minecraft demo at E3.  The updates meant nothing to someone who hasn’t played Minecraft in a few years, and they have their own conference, Minecon, to announce this stuff.  Having John Carmack on stage was cool, but it wasn’t worth sitting through an overly long Minecraft demo.

I want to take this time to mention how much I love the way Microsoft creates overproduced trailers for controllers.  They announced the Xbox Design Lab where you can create a custom controller.  It’s cool, although it’s a shame that you can’t customize the Elite Controller because I feel like anybody willing to spend extra money on a controller would want the Elite.

Transitioning out of the lull and into indie games was a trailer for Inside followed by a June 29 release date.  I love that the game is releasing soon, and it sounds really cool.  I don’t know if I believe Chris Charla when he says that it is one of the best games he’s ever played, but I believe that it is a very good game.

They showed an ID @ Xbox trailer featuring Cuphead, Below, Outlast II, Bloodstained, Yooka Laylee, and more.  I still think that those first two need a release date by now, but it was a good selection of games to show.

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The indie game that got the biggest showing was We Happy Few.  They showed a gameplay demo that had a great creepy vibe and set up the world very well.  I just think it was also deceptive.  If that is what this game is, then that might be one of the best demos of the show.  But it’s actually a much more open-ended roguelike.  That wasn’t clear from the demo, and that bothers me.  It was fun to watch though.

There was a clever transition out of indie games and into Gwent which is technically an indie game.  I think that it’s smart that CD Projekt RED is making a standalone Gwent game, and it looks like they are evolving the mini game in smart ways.  I also think that this game doesn’t make a ton of sense on console and isn’t big enough for this type of stage time.  However, it is smart of Microsoft to keep a strong relationship with CD Projekt RED.

This was followed by a Tekken 7 demo that showed a fight between Heihachi and Akuma.  The fight was intense, and it looks like Akuma has been implemented well.  This was a great demo, and it was followed by Harada on stage in a ridiculous outfit that I’ll put below.  I don’t have much else to say.  The game looks great, and I hope it is.  I could use a good Tekken game to wipe the taste of Street Fighter V out of my mouth.

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They then announced the heavily leaked Dead Rising 4 which will be a timed exclusive.  The idea of Frank West being trapped in the same mall from the first game years later is fantastic.  I also love the idea of a Christmas themed Dead Rising game, and it’s coming out this December.  It was a good trailer, and I’m looking forward to the game.

The Scalebound demo that followed was rough.  It was a co-op demo where you fought a big monster.  None of it looked very engaging.  It didn’t look like you were doing much damage to the enemy, and I just wasn’t sold on it.  I still have faith in Kamiya to make a good game, but this was a bad demo, and it would have been the worse one if it wasn’t for Final Fantasy XV.

Scalebound was followed by a Sea of Thieves demo.  This demo was also a little weak, but not too bad.  It showed a ship battle, and it looked fun.  If that’s all this game is I’ll be disappointed, but if this is just a part of it, then it looks fine.  The idea to have people on face cams in the corner reacting to what was happening made me roll my eyes, but they weren’t too bad.

State of Decay 2 was announced with a fun trailer that included people opening car doors to kill passing zombies.  They didn’t show a whole lot, but it was heavily hinted that the game was co-op.  It was a cool announcement, but I feel like it kind of got lost in the show.

The last game shown was Halo Wars 2.  They showed a cool but probably too long CGI trailer, a short gameplay trailer, and they announced an open beta.  That’s all cool, but this would have normally been a really weak closer.

However, it wasn’t because they ended the game with the announcement of Project Scorpio.  This is the next Xbox console that will be coming out at the end of 2017.  They are making it sound like it is not a complete replacement for the Xbox One, and they haven’t given a ton of details yet.  But they did have a really strong reveal and have a year and a half to get their message out there.  They seem to have a clear vision, which is something I really appreciate.

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Microsoft’s conference lacked a big game, but that big game was replaced by the announcement of Project Scorpio.  I love that they have a direction they are going and are confident in.  I felt happy to own an Xbox One after this E3.  And since they hit all the other notes they needed to, this press conference was as good as you could have asked for minus a few lulls.

Final Score: 5 Stars

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