E3 2016: Microsoft Press Conference Recap and Review

The last of the big hitters this year at E3, well technically first if you want to be accurate, was Microsoft who continued to find themselves in the back seat to Sony. While The Xbox One has seen radical and consumer friendly changes since it’s launch back in 2013, Microsoft has been unable to make up much ground to the behemoth that is the PlayStation 4.

E3 Xbox

While Microsoft may not like the position they’re in after the massively successful Xbox 360, there’s no denying that it’s good for fans. Microsoft has made a ton of moves with their system, taking more risks and adding more and more features to try and close the gap. With another solid looking fall lineup on the way, many were wondering what else Microsoft had up their sleeves to attract more gamers to their console.

So how did they do? Will this help Microsoft close the gap? Lets recap!

Announcements
Xbox One S is Real
Not looking to waste any time, Microsoft revealed the Xbox One S, the much more compact and slim model of the current big and bulky Xbox One. The big brick of a power supply is now bundled inside of the console, it’s 40% smaller, and supports up to 2TB of hard drive space. The console arrives in August with a fresh white coat of paint, HDR functionality, and a new controller with texture grip and an increased wireless range. Not too shabby is you ask me.

Gears of War 4 Expanded Look
As expected, Gears of War 4 essentially led off the show, arguably as the showpiece game. Fans got to see a sizable chunk of campaign gameplay along with co-op action. The section featured an impressive looking lightning storm, as the new trio of heroes worked their way towards a large structure that was overrun with the new enemy types. Destructible cover and environmental hazards appear to be a bigger part of the experience this time around, making sure to speed up the stop and pop combat mechanics. Gears 4 also kicks off the Play Anywhere campaign, which essentially unites Windows 10 users and Xbox One users, letting them play together. Also, if you’re looking for a stylish elite controller, a Gears of War 4 specific one is coming later this year.

General RAAM Joins Killer Instinct
Speaking of Gears of War, the big bad from the very first game was announced as a playable character for the popular fighting game, Killer Instinct.

Gears-of-War-3-RAAMs-Shadow

Forza Horizon 3 is Stunning
If you thought the already impressive Forza games couldn’t look any better, think again. Forza Horizon 3 introduced the crowd to the stunning landscape of Australia with a variety of settings ranging from beaches, jungles, dirt roads, and plenty of places to drive fast. The game looks to support drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, introduce 4 player co-op campaign, sports the biggest roster of cars ever, and provide plenty of opportunity to perform death defying moves with race cars. The action hits fast in September.

ReCore
Last years surprise new IP from Mega Man creator Kenji Inafune and former Metroid Prime developers at Armature got a new trailer showing off more gameplay surrounding Joule’s multiple robot buddies. I’m looking forward to this one, especially now at that budget friendly price.

Final Fantasy 15 Brings The Scale
Surprisingly, Square Enix took the stage next to show off Final Fantasy 15. Like most, I associate Final Fantasy with Sony, so seeing them get stage time here was interesting. The demo revealed gameplay called the Trial of Titan where the player went up against a huge monster. The size and scale of the fight was really impressive and filled with dramatic moments and last second dodges. I’m not a Final Fantasy player, but this was pretty cool.

The Division Expansion
Ubisoft delivered a new trailer for The Division, finally giving players a taste of what the first paid expansion was bringing to the table. Better yet? PC and Xbox One owners would get it at the end of June.

Battlefield 1 Shows Itself…Again
Dedicated fans would see that the Battlefield 1 trailer that played in this spot was the exact same one from the day before during the EA Play event. Not that it’s a bad thing, just kind of underwhelming that we’re already retreading content. EA Access players also learned at this point that they’d get early access to Battlefield 1 before everyone else.

Xbox Live Enhancements
While it’s not always the most compelling topic to discuss during E3, sometimes it’s fairly important. To continue making Xbox Live even better, Microsoft is adding more servers, adding the option for background music, and releasing the voice activated Cortana program. This fall, players will gain access to even more features like the community building Clubs, find other players for multiplayer games with Looking for Group, and set up tournaments in the Arena. Better yet, EA has already jumped on board by enabling the Arena functionality in their sports games.

Minecraft updates
The juggernaut that is Minecraft continues to evolve. Crossplay is finally coming to the game, letting folks from all of the various platforms finally play with each other. Realms are also being introduced, which is essentially a fancy word for dedicated servers. New texture packs and add-ons are also on the way this fall including a city scape and ones with aliens.

Custom Xbox Controllers
In a move I didn’t see coming, Microsoft is launching the ability for fans to customize their own Xbox controllers. A new trailer showed off the program, which lets players choose from over 8 million color options from the joysticks, buttons, d-pad, and more. Players even have the option to engrave their handle into the controller as well. I’ve tried out the site, it’s pretty cool. While it’s a bit more expensive than a normal controller, it’s no where near as expensive as I figured it would be for just a color coded controller. I haven’t messed with the engraving, but I’d imagine it to be a bit of a price jump.

ID@Xbox
Time for the indies! A sizzle reel was shown off now, noting that over 1000 indie games are in development currently including Cuphead, Outlast 2, Yooka-Laylee, Stardew Valley, and a ton more. Not only that, Playdead, the studio who gave us the excellent Limbo, was getting ready to release their next game (which is now out and still excellent), called Inside.

We Happy Few Demo
Well, this was a nice surprise! The very BioShock-y looking We Happy Few was given a chance to shine on the stage, and the gameplay revealed a lot of interesting twists and turns. Set in a British town in the 1960s, the towns folk appear to be self medicating to repress some not so great memories. Our character decides to stop taking his “Joy” leading to some creepy, thrilling, and awesome looking environmental storytelling. Fans don’t need to wait long, as it goes live on Xbox Game Preview on July 26.

The Witcher 3 Sunset

Gwent Official Reveal
The popular and already robust card game from The Witcher 3 is getting its own spin off and I know many are happy to lose their free time to this.

Tekken 7 Demo
Another surprising addition to the show, a lengthy demo showed off Akuma battling longtime Tekken fighter Heihachi. What’s interesting is that it looked like the cutscenes and fights blended together in almost a seamless way. There’s definitely a story this time around and to not have to wait through loading screens would be a major deal. It’ll be interesting if this demo was representative of the actual game, or just a snazzy E3 tech demo.

Dead Rising 4 Revealed
Frank is back. He’s bringing with him even more crazy over the top weapons and vehicles to hopefully find a cure for this zombie issue once and for all.

Scalebound Co-op
We’ve seen a little bit of Scalebound since it was shown off at Gamescom last year, but there’s still a sense of mystery around it. Another layer of intrigue came off as more gameplay was shown off, this time in a co-op oriented giant boss battle. With a bunch of dragons flying around, and a giant kraken spider thingy trying to smash said players into dust, there was a lot of stuff going on. The gameplay ended with those beats-like headphones being put on, rock music blasting, and super moves finishing the job. It looks interesting but I’m still not sure what to think.

Sea of Thieves Gameplay
For those looking to finally see some gameplay on this new Rare game, well, you got your wish. The first person game looks to unite players by having them go on pirate adventures and battling other players in pretty interesting looking ship battles. Word from the show was that it is also pretty fun so we’ll see I guess.

State of Decay 2 Reveal
The popular Xbox 360/PC game, State of Decay is getting a proper sequel, and based on the teaser trailer, there looks to be some sort of co-op/multiplayer element this time around.

Halo Wars 2 Beta Kicks Off
Spoiled prior to the show, Microsoft announced that an open beta for the upcoming strategy game, Halo Wars 2, could be downloaded and played on the Xbox One.

Project Scorpio Is Real
In a surprise move, Microsoft ended their show with a developer diary surrounding the often rumored Project Scorpio, potentially the most technologically advanced console ever built. With Sony set to reveal their new PS4 console known as NEO at some point in the next few months, Microsoft wanted to get their information out there first. While it’s still in active development and won’t be out until 2017, but it appears to be aimed at high end TVs that have 4K capability. The console will have a stronger GPU, render at 60Hz, and come with 6 teraflops of computing capability. That, my friends, is quite a bit of flops.

It’s still a ways off and a ton can change between now and then, but it’s always fun to get a glimpse into the future.

Concerns/Dislikes
Solid Effort – Not really a concern or dislike, but I thought the conference was solid but didn’t have that gut punch knockout blow like it had last year.

Padding? – Some things maybe could have taken a backseat this year. The Battlefield 1 trailer was something we had already seen and I’m sure it was played over and over as the week went on. I get that the main point was about EA Access, but there must have been a better way to announce it. In addition, I thought the Minecraft demo was a bit awkward, especially when John Carmack decided to jump in. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be overly campy, but I could have done with out it, or at the very least, a shortened version.

Overall: A-
Like I mentioned above, I thought Microsoft had a solid if not unspectacular show. There weren’t a whole lot of surprises, but what they did show looked great. Sony was similar in this regard, and while I did rate Sony a wee bit higher, the gap was significantly smaller this year between the two.

Once again, Microsoft is doing everything they can to close that sales gap between them and the PS4, which is always great for the end user. This year fans are getting a newer console, customization controllers, and a ton more features to Xbox Live, a service that is already outstanding. It seems like Microsoft has already begun the process to form a sort of Xbox ecosystem starting with their Windows 10 initiative and now the Play Anywhere idea coming later this year that aims to leave no gamer behind.

There’s no denying that this stuff isn’t at the very least interesting, as it aims to shake up the landscape in ways we haven’t see yet. Will it be enough to catch Sony? Only time will tell for sure. Either way, kudos on another well made show this year, Microsoft.

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