E3 Week: My Highlights from the Microsoft Xbox Press Conference

After the EA conference felt like a company floundering for something to put on stage, and then subsequently not actually making an effort once the stuff was up there. Microsoft came out like a company with something to prove. True, they are trailing behind Sony and the PS4 in terms of sales and install base, but Microsoft also have their fingers in the PC space, so it’s not like they’re desperate…

I’m not going to break down the entire conference for Microsoft like I did for EA, there was far too much on display here and a lot of it I don’t have a strong opinion about, or there wasn’t simply enough there before jumping to the next thing to say anything about it other than stating it’s a thing. So I’m going to go down my notes and talk about the things I felt the strongest about, in either a positive or negative light. So let’s get started.

Halo Infinite

Starting off with a bang, as they often do. We saw the reveal for Halo Infinite. Being powered by a brand new game engine. The game appears to be something entirely new rather than the Halo 6 everyone was expecting. I didn’t mind Halo 5, It had its problems, but was a solid 7/10 in the end. They didn’t get any deeper than this teaser trailer by the end though. so we know it exists and little else.

In an interview after the fact, developers gave a touch more information on the game. Like me, many were confused as to the nature of this thing, was it a spin-off, a reboot or was it the sequel to Halo 5. The person interviewed seemed to be dodging a lot of these more pointed questions, but ultimately said that this was, for all intensive purposes, Halo 6.

The story of the last game ended on quite the cliff hanger, so seeing a serene environment of a Halo in this trailer makes you wonder if they’re just starting again and brushing that Cortana nonsense under the carpet, especially with Chief plugging an AI chip into the back of his helmet at the end.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open to see what the hell this ends up being. Although, with the way things are going, and with the use of the name Infinite, I wouldn’t be too shocked if there is an open world multiplayer element to this. Like a certain other game made by the people who used to make Halo…


Ori and the Will of the Wisps

I loved Ori and the Blind Forest. It was a beautiful game, in terms of its art design, its story direction and especially its music. It was a fantastic piece of art as well as a game. So obviously I’m going to be excited for the sequel.

The art style seemed a little different at a glance, but its been long enough that I can’t tell without looking it up. Part of the reason I loved the the first game was because, despite its gentle and beautiful design style, it was a relentlessly tough reaction based platformer, requiring precision timing and snap judgements about using your array of abilities.

I am all the way behind this next game and here it look like exactly what I want out of an Ori sequel.


Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

This is entirely new to me, but either way it looks incredibly cool and stylish. A samurai inspired third person action game, which gave me a lot of flashbacks to Nioh from early last year. There is this wet, greasy look to a lot of the enemies. A lot of them seem grotesque and there is this mechanical aspect to a lot of them also. These haven’t been my kinds of games in the past. But this one has turned my head.

Being a game coming out of FromSoftware, I don’t think I’d be stretching to say it will be a game in the “Dark Souls” format. But while the PS4 has Bloodborne, it looks like Microsoft paid out to get a “Souls-like” game exclusive to their console.

There is a lot of stock and respect for FromSoftware and their games, so I’m going to be more than willing to give this one a shot. I’ll just keep my eye on it going forward.


Fallout 76

I already spoke about my concerns regarding Fallout 76. The presentation almost entirely focused on the cinematic aspect of the game, delving deeper into the story behind Vault 76, something a lot of the more industrious fans already dug up based on lore from previous games.

The spokesman on stage talks about how players are going to be the first people out of the vaults after the bombs drop, meaning this is going to be a far less populated and civilised world than the Fallout games we’ve been getting in the post 3 era.

It just continues to build on my concern that this will end up being more of a Rust/DayZ than a New Vegas (which is what I’d really like this to be). Survival isn’t a genre I care for and when it comes to Bethesda, I am here for their crafted worlds and stories. In the end though, they don’t actually dig into this game and say what it’s actually going to be.

Hopefully they’ll give us some more information at the Bethesda conference proper.


Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit

I did like Life is Strange. They took the Telltale style of adventure game and did something more interesting by telling an original story and adding a rewind mechanic. The game also featured some very realistically written characters, so much so that they gave me flash backs of my University days and how much of a pretentious douche I was.

The Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit is a whole new story from the same team, featuring a young kid with a very active imagination. Based on the trailer, it looks to take some inspiration from things like Toy Story or Rugrats (of all things) where the characters make-believe situations are fully realised in game play.

I’d imagine there are some real world, heavy personal dramas going on too, hence the kid’s escapism, but a single shot led me to believe there might be more going on here than pure make-believe and that there might be something more to him than an active imagination.

I look forward to this one and hope they don’t totally shit the bed with the ending like Life is Strange did. Seriously, I hate that ending “choice” with the deepest of passions.


Kingdom Hearts III

Skipping past a few games that I liked the look of but don’t have much to say about, I settle on getting into the weeds with Kingdom Hearts III next. I liked Kingdom Hearts II a whole lot. It grabbed me and was very much a right place, right time kind of game for a 17 year old me. Problem is, every other Kingdom Hearts game I picked up just never did it for me in the same way.

Based on what I’m seeing here, it looks like more of what I’d have wanted back in 2005. A focus on Disney’s more modern properties, inclucing their Pixar series in Toy Story and Monsters Inc. as well as their CG animation studio movies like Tangled and, as far as I’m aware, the reveal of Frozen.

Even I’ll admit that the level of polish in these games looks insane. Graphically, it’s amazing, but they always have been. Square can make one hell of a pretty game when they want to. In the end though, Kingdom Hearts III has come far, far too late for me. I can’t be doing with their melodrama and densely packed stories about light and darkness anymore.

If this had taken less than 13 years to come out, I might have been more on board. Now they’re going to need to really work to get me back, despite the impressive visuals and obvious massive budget that has gone into this game.


Forza Horizon 4

I don’t like racing games traditionally. I do, however, Really like Forza Horizon. The announcement of Horizon 4 is probably the least surprising thing during this entire conference, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make an impact. And oh my God does this game look pretty.

Forza Horizon 3 looked amazing, and this one looks even better. Taking place across Britain, the new Forza features dynamic seasons, changing the layout of the world as they cycle and allowing for new routes based on things like frozen lakes.

The game also seems to be more perpetually online, while the last Horizon had player’s “driveatars” whipping around as you explored, Turn 10 seem tone adding a proper always online multiplayer now, meaning that other, human players will be driving around in your open world. And presumably trolling the fuck out of you in the process.

Extra notes, the game will have locked 60 frame per second mode on the Xbox One X and will be available from day one on Game Pass. This is the first game that’s made me seriously think about getting an X when I upgrade. It’s a no brainer for me. This looks amazing and I can’t wait to play it.


We Happy Few

This game has been a real roller coaster ride. When to first popped up at E3 a few years ago, there were excited murmurings surrounding it. At a glance, it looked like a 1960s styled, Clockwork Orange inspired story about an individual breaking away from his “happy pills” and seeing the grim, grimy reality of London town for the first time.

It made for a very striking first impression, and I remember being pretty excited for it. Cut to a few months later and people started to get hands on the early access version of the game, only to be hugely disappointed. What we thought we were getting was a first person action game with a narrative focus, much in the same vein as a Bioshock or a Prey. What we got was Rust.

The beta for We Happy Few was a survival game, and consequently the interest of a huge many people suddenly dropped off. And the game seemed forgotten. Now we’re back on an E3 stage, and it seems like the game has totally reinvented itself. While not completely omitting the survival elements, it has crafted an entire story to centre its game around.

Now looking like the Bioshock game we all wanted it to be, people are excited for it again. It’s art style and creepily happy characters make for a potentially amazing horror setting and once again, I am looking forward to what seems to be a very stylish first person narrative experence.


The Division 2

I couldn’t help but laugh during the trailer for the Division 2. Being set in Washington D.C. coupled with the language and terminology used during the story setup, it feels incredibly on the nose considering the current political climate in the U.S. in real life. It made for a real tugging at the collar kind of moment, making the audience wonder whether they were actually doing this. Then again, Ubisoft are Canadian, so they can make all the digs they want.

I did like the first Division, but it was let down by repetitive combat and uninteresting mission design. For a game that was supposed to be more grounded, a lot of enemies seemed incredibly bullet spongy, while still able to take you down in a heartbeat. The game play trailer on display here already looks more visually striking than the first, feeling more open and bright when compared to the grey and snowy New York.

Not only that, there seem to be a bigger variety of weapons at the player’s disposal too including a tracking mine and some kind of very potent loft insulation. I don’t know if these types of unconventional weapons made their way into the first game’s expansions, but it looks a lot more interesting based on what is shown here.

That being said, Ubisoft are experts at making pretty basic/dull shooting experiences seem a lot more fluid and cooperative during these events than they are in practice. It looks real pretty though and I’d be willing to give the Division another go if they mix up game play some more and make it a touch less conventional as a third person shooter.


Jump Force

Speaking of trailers I found myself laughing it. This one opens up with overly realistic depiction’s of scenes from classic Shonen anime. And I’m here wondering what the hell this is. Then we see a shot of Monkey D. Luffy standing on a flagpole bearing an American flag before he, Naruto and Son Goku start beating the crap out of Freeza in a destroyed New York. What?!

Okay, this isn’t an entirely new concept. There was a game on 3DS a few years back called Jump Ultimate Stars, as in Shonen Jump, the publication of all these Manga. It’s a Super Smash Bros. style beat ‘em up mashing up all the different characters from these franchises together. There are ton of these types of games in Japan actually.

The thing about this that’s the most surprising isn’t just the fact that this is getting a western release at all, with Ultimate Stars never getting outside of Japan. It’s the fact that they revealed it on an E3 stage, That’s insane.

I’d like to be excited for this, but I’ve seen these kinds of games before. Third person action brawlers in the style of a Dynasty Warriors game. That’s my worry anyway. The Naruto games out of Cyberconnect2 are actually pretty good. Although is is Spike Chunsoft making it, so I’m not quite that hopeful. But hey, we saw Goku on an E3 stage again this year, that’s pretty cool.


Gears Pop! & Gears Tactics

Thus begins the Gears of War trio. Not one, but three new Gears of War games getting announced in quick succession. This off the back of me complaining about how boring the remaster of the original Gears of War was too. Straight away. it is off to a terrible start. I know the LEGO games are incredibly popular, but Funko Pops? I think I’m going to be sick.

I detest those little vinyl figures. They all look the same, half the time you probably don’t know who it’s supposed to be unless they have a distinctive dew rag, not only that the uniform design is ugly as hell. At least Lego is basically a conduit for creativity. It’s the laziest form of consumerist crap, and how they’re getting their own game… Urgh. Bring back Megablox Halo please.

After that was quickly brushed under the rug, I was too busy gagging that I almost missed the announcement of Gears Tactics. A game that looks to be an X-Com style strategy game set during the war between humanity and the locust in the original trilogy.

I feel like Gears of War just fine, but it never felt like a franchise that needed to come back after the original trilogy ended. Even when it did, I enjoyed 4 just fine, but felt it was hampered by unfortunate business practices, specifically surrounding its multiplayer. I never saw it as a franchise that screamed for spin-off games, we all know how well Judgement did for them. I’m not interested in either of these and I’m kind of surprised Microsoft think the property has these kind of legs.


Gears 5

Is this the title now? Or are they eventually just going to start calling it Gears of War 5 when the hashtag has been suitably circulated online. The trailer is mostly cinematic. Based on what we see It appears there has been a time skip between this Gears 4 and this one, as J.D. (the protagonist of the previous game) doesn’t look like the fresh faced kid anymore.

Sporting a beard, wicked facial scar and shaved head, to say he looks weathered would be an understatement, his old man Marcus even looks in better shape than him. Although it seems like J.D. won’t be the protagonist of this story, as Kait (the player two of 4), is taking the reigns as hero in a journey to figure out what she is after the reveal at the abrupt ending of the previous game.

After Gears of War 4 turned out to be a pretty by the books sequel to the original trilogy, I wasn’t going into this conference with a lot of interest in seeing what Gears 5 had to offer. Personally, I had hoped the franchise would move away from the Locust entirely after the events of 3. When they went in the completely predictable route and wrote a “history repeating itself with the next generation” story I deflated. However, the game was solid enough by its own merit for me to still enjoy it.

Looking at the Trailer for Gears 5, I don’t think I saw a single Locust at all. The game was rife with corrupt, mutated monsters to battle, all of them pretty new looking to me. I feel like this may be the game I had hoped Gears of War 4 would be, breaking away from the safe space and doing something more diverse and adventurous. I find myself suddenly on board the Gears train once again. All I wanted was something new and surprising, based on what I’ve seen here, that might be what we’re getting. And that’s enough for me.


Cyberpunk 2077

Before the show ended, there was one last announcement for Microsoft to make, in a staged hacking effect we got to see the next game from the developers of the Witcher; CD Projekt Red. And the brand new game they’re developing in Cyberpunk 2077. And wow, this is how you end a show.

This was just a cinematic teaser. But there is a hell of a lot going on in this trailer and I loved all of it. The trailer works to establish the world that the game will be taking place in, as the title suggests, it’s very, very cyberpunk in style. Think Deus Ex, Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell.

We see holographic displays, people packed full of painful looking cybernetics, neon lights literally everywhere and then people still driving very 80s looking sports cars. There was a lot of grime and intentional shock factor on display and I drink up all of it.

Even the logo looks frikkin’ badass as hell. I don’t even know what kind of game this is yet, but I am incredibly excited to see more of it. Microsoft certainly ended their conference with a bang.


My Verdict on Microsoft’s 2018 E3 Press Conference

This felt a hell of a lot stronger than EA’s conference, they’re hardly comparable to be honest. Microsoft wasted no time on stage, instead they just showed game after game until your head was spinning.

Microsoft are in a weird place, because they’re behind in sales, consequently they’re doing a lot more to try and appease their fans. They’re taking risks with their projects and doing more out of the ordinary. I’m not saying it’s all successful, but I appreciate the effort. I love the Game Pass since subscribing and there are a lot of other games on here that I’m amazed they gave stage time to.

To me, this is how to do a conference. Just keep throwing things at the wall and at least some of it will turn a person’s head. I’ll put my hand up and say that I primarily play my games on the Xbox, but even I’m not silly enough to think that any of these games are better on Xbox than PC. To be honest, I’m not sure that Microsoft know/care what the term “world exclusive” means.

This was an impressive show. There is a lot of be excited about here and I’m wondering how Bethesda will follow it.

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