E3: Microsoft Showcase Impressions

Halo-5-E3-2015-03It has been a rough ride for Microsoft this generation. In theory, the system has delivered on most of the issues that beleagured the console after launch: the lower price point, ability to play used games, removal of Kinect, and a focus on first party. And yet in the public discourse, the company still seems to be gamings villain. A lot of good will have been growing since to placement of Phil Spencer as head of the entire XBox division, but big moves were going to be required re-acclamate the cultural acceptance of the Xbox One. Thankfully, this press conference was, for lack of a better word, their strongest presentation in years, if not ever. Let’s get to the announcements:

halo5Halo 5

If you wanted evidence that Microsoft was turning a corner, for the first time since before Modern Warfare 2, Microsoft did not start their conference with a Call of Duty demo. No, instead they came out swinging with their largest property, Halo.

So what is new? Well a lot of the surprises were spoiled by Game Informer’s cover story but basically the greatest thing about Halo 5 is none other than Nathan Fillion! Well maybe not the greatest, but holy shit it was great to hear Buck again. So Halo 5’s campaign is based around a constant 4 player scenario, which if you are playing single player, that means squad controls. Squad orders include healing and ordering to take out units. Very reminiscent of Star Wars Republic Commando.

Like Halo 2 you are playing from two different sides of the story: Master Chief and Blue Team, and Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris. The demo they showed looked like it took place in some Covenant temple or city. Visually the game looks like Halo 4 with deeper detail and textures. This is not a bad thing because Halo 4 was a gorgeous game. I am also happy for the return of grunts speaking English, not to mention their hilarious comments. Like Halo 4 the main enemies will be the Covenant and Promethians.

Multiplayer has always been key to the franchise, and 5 will only up the ante. Seamless drop in/drop out coop was revealed by Game Informer, but at E3, the big announcement was the 24 player game mode called Warzone. Not only is it team v team, but bots from different races will also invade the playground.

Halo 5 will be arriving on October 27, 2015.

recoreRecore

Following Halo, Phil took the stage to announce a brand new first party IP titled Recore. Created by Keiji Inafune, Creator of the original Mega Man, in collaboration with Concept and Armature Studios, Recore looks to be about a girl and her robot dog in a word with several threatening robot adversaries in the middle of a desert wasteland.

The game will be published by Microsoft Studios and will launch in Spring 2016.

Xbox_360_logoXBOX ONE Backwards Compatibility!!!!!

No doubt, this was one of the biggest announcements of the show, not to mention one of the biggest cheers I have ever heard at a Microsoft conference! Backwards Compatibility will hopefully mean the ability to use all of our previously purchased Xbox 360 content. To demonstrate it, Mass Effect was shown on screen in all its last gen glory. It is funny how old this game looks now.

Even better, the games will have full Xbox Live capacity meaning multiplayer, as well as all of Xbox One’s features like recording/broadcasting/screenshots.

The service will be available to all preview members as of right now. One caveat, game publishers have to okay their game’s backwards compatibility. Full service is coming this holiday.

Personally, I want to know whether cloud saves will migrate over. Sorry to say it out loud but I still need to beat Skyrim 🙂

elite controllerElite controller.

On the hardware side of things, Xbox announced the Elite controller which will work with both the Xbox One and Windows 10. The controller includes several new buttons and paddles, as well as a completly revamped d-pad. The controller will allow for complete remapping making several hard core gamers very happy I imagine.

fallout-4-screenshotFallout 4

Todd Howard emerged on screen with what was pretty much a repeat of last night’s presentation with some new gameplay footage. As I mentioned in the Bethesda demo, shooting looks significantly better. It was also nice to see some better facial animations. The faces are still a little hollow, but miles ahead of Skyrim.

The big news however, was that PC Mods are free to transfer to the Xbox One version of the game.

EA Access

Peter Moore came on stage to announce two new games coming to the EA Access vault, EA’s subscription gaming service: Titanfall and Dragon Age, though I have to wonder how many users of EA Access haven’t played these games. Also announced was that EA Access vault will be open to all Xbox users for the week of E3.

Plants-Vs-Zombies-Garden-Warfare-2-Microsoft-E3-2015-Stream-04-1280x720Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2

Before he left, Moore came with one game announcement: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. It was a fun and colourful trailer set to Sterling Archer’s favourite song “Danger Zone”. I enjoyed the first game though I pushed it aside more often than not for Titanfall. That said, I have a great appreciation for its over the top, humourous approach to the FPS genre. The game is coming Spring 2016.

Forza 6Forza 6

After showing off a very sexy Ford GT, Turn 10 Studio head Dan Greenwald revealed Forza 6 in all of its 1080P, 60 FPS glory. It is almost sad that after years of consistent top-notch deliverables from Turn 10, the Forza series has lost some of its luster due to annualization. That is not to say that they aren’t top of their field, but it is hard to get excited for a Forza game the way it is hard to get excited for an MLB the Show or Madden. I will buy it, and I will love it, but it isn’t going to cause me to murder the person next to me in a Best Buy.

This edition will include night races and rain effects, including 3D puddles that alter your car’s handling. There also looks to be some cool course damage effect with tire barriers being thrown on to the course. The game will come out this September.

dark souls 3Dark Souls 3

As was leaked last week, Early 2016 will bring us the third entry in the Dark Souls franchise, looking drab and depressing as ever. Xbox probably went out of their way to include this game on their stage as an “us too” response to Bloodborne. The trailer ended with a Giant boss that looks terrifying.

The-Division-XBOX-Conference-15The Division

I feel like at this point, The Division has been at so many press conferences that I am somewhat jaded with the game. This game trailer looked good, as they all have. I like the time square location with the video billboards in the background. They were constantly displaying video which was pretty rad. I didn’t see a door closing at all. Feature removed? (Obviously kidding). The Division will have an exclusive beta on Xbox One in December.

Rainbow 6 Seige

The 360 versions of Vegas and Vegas 2 will come free on xbox with Siege due to backwards compatibility. That is cool, but I already have these. Siege will be available October 13 2015.

Gigantic-Microsoft-Conference-3Gigantic

Originally shown at GDC this year, Gigantic looks to be a competitor to Blizzard’s Overwatch. It is a hero-based multiplayer game with a really cool cell shaded look. The game will be free to play and I may have misheard it, but I think it will have cross play with PC.

TacomaID@XBOX: Indie Showcase: Tacoma

Chris Charla, head of ID@XBOX, took a page from Sony’s book and brought out the indie developers for some solid stage time. First of which, Fullbright Studios (Makers of Gone Home), showed off their new first person narrative game, Tacoma. Like Gone Home, it looks to be focussed on a where is everyone style of mystery, this time in space adventure. Where has everyone gone. The game will be appearing first on Xbox One and PC.

ashenAshen

The second title revealed by Charla was from Aurora 44. Entitled Ashen, the game is a console exclusive with a really cool art style (faceless people?). The game has a very strong Ico/SotC vibe including giant creatures. Bird whale anyone?

beyond eyesBeyond Eyes

Team 17s Beyond Eyes has been previewed a bit already, but this game looks like a really cool idea.Utilizing a painterly art style, Beyond Eyes has you playing as a young blind girl, revealing the environment slowly as you navigate its obstacles. One cool mechanic is how things that sound one way from afar take different shapes as you approach (a bird becomes a chirping street light) This game looks absolutely stunning and it will be coming first to Xbox One.

CupheadCuphead

Finally, ID@XBOX previewed console exclusive Cup Head. It is like a series of platformer boss battles, akin to Kirby and that damn tree, only displayed in a hand-drawn 1930s era animation style.This is Microsoft’s big up and coming indie game and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Xbox Game Preview

Charla finally also took the time to announce Xbox’s early access program, Xbox Game Preview. Unlike Steam, the program will allow for free trial’s, keeping you from dropping hard earned coin on crappy unity clones. This should make Jim Sterling happy. Announced games for the program include The Long Dark and Elite Dangerous.

ionIon

The final ID@XBOX game shown was from the developers of Day Z. A Space Sim/MMO, Ion will be coming first to Xbox One and PC. I look forward to the developers grand ambitions falling apart and leaving us with a desperate wasteland where people are kidnapped and forced to duel… in space.

tomb-raider-lara-fireRise of the Tomb Raider

Back to the big AAA exclusives, Tomb Raider (a timed exclusive) looks absolutely beautiful. The fabric on her winter jacket looked great, as did the snow and ice physics. Story-wise, Jonah, the least despicable member of her previous team returns. While the showpiece event they displayed was very cool and reminiscent of the Tomb Raider reboot, I was kind of hoping for a more open exploration demonstration. Instead we received Crystal Dynamics attempt to be Naughty Dog. Still, I am super hyped for this game.Tomb Raider comes out November 10, the same day as Fallout… Oops…

Rare Replay Collection

Okay, this is exciting. 30 Rare Games in one collection for 30 dollars. It will be super exciting to get to play some of these old games, including Battle Toads, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, and more.

sea of thievesSea of Thieves

The big Rare news, however, was the announcement of Sea of Thieves. A shared universe pirate adventure game, Sea of Thieves looks to have a very Rare colour pallet. Some were probably hoping for a new Battletoads, I am so happy to see that they aren’t remaking a past ip and are instead moving in a wholly original direction. I can’t say enough how much I love the art style. It is cartoony yet well detailed. This looks very exciting.

Fable Legends

There was nothing really new to announce about Fable Legends but we did receive a new trailer with Cersi Lannister herself narrating. A has already been revealed, the game with have cross-platform play between the Xbox One and Windows 10. They announced that it is coming this holiday, but there was not true date announcement.

 

MinecraftHololensHoloLens

Okay, the HoloLens demo was pure magic as far as I am concerned. Showing Minecraft on the table may not be what everyone wants from gaming, but what it demonstrates is the true physical connection one feels to the holographic environment. I don’t know what it the end product is going to feel like, and I realize that a lot of people felt burnt by Kinect, but mother of god I got chills watching that demo. Oh and it is untethered, which I believe is really important. No need to be attached to a PC or console, HoloLens is able to exist all on its own.

Gears of War Ultimate Edition

Surprising no one, Rod Fergusson, the head of The Coalition – developers of the Gears of War franchise, came out to announce the Gears of War Ultimate Edition. This is the first game rebuilt at 1080p 60 fps. It was also announced that multiplayer beta begins today. My code has already appeared in my inbox.

Gears 4Gears of War 4

Finally, the last game of the event was Gears of War 4. I was expecting maybe a CG trailer. Something akin to the Mad World trailer, but instead we got an actual gameplay demo. The characters were not the overly muscled Marcus Fenix types, but more realistic depictions of human beings (a male and female were shown in the demo).

Built on the Unreal Engine 4, the lightning effects were gorgeous. The atmosphere of the game looks like The Coalition is trying to bring a little more of the horror back to Gears. The first game was filled with really intense moments, so I welcome the return.

In terms of general feel, this demo has some very Gearsy things but in other ways it looks like it just doesn’t have the heft of the previous games. I am not saying that that is a bad thing. Just the absence of Marcus’ bulk is really noticeable.

The game will launch Holiday 2016.

And that was it. Congrats to Microsoft for a great show and so many great announcements. Between MS and Bethesda, we have had a roller coaster of delights and I can only hope that trend keeps going forward.

Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar

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