Microsoft's E3 press conferences in the Phil Spencer era when they've needed to raise their game for Xbox One have been great showings, but somehow out done by other events, whether that's PlayStation's two back-to-back events in 2015 and 2016 or third-party publishers. One massive key component to its show that has been lacking compared to Sony or Nintendo has been its first-party presence.
At this year's conference, Microsoft and Phil Spencer double-downed on its first-party commitment in a big way.
First-party double down
Before the press conference, Xbox head Phil Spencer said at a Xbox Fanfest meeting that this year was primarily about listing out "a real long-term investment in what our first-party is about."
And it did that in massive spades.
It kicked off the show with an in-game trailer of the brand new Halo from 343 Industries, running off the brand new Slipspace engine, which just looked phenomenal and even looked like it was showing cinematic gameplay footage.
If Halo was the start of the show and 343's next chapter within MS's first party, it was The Coalition who'd bookend what 343 did and close (kinda - we'll get to that) the show with three new Gears games: a Funko Pop Gears game for mobile (seriously), a Gears strategy game for PC and, natch, Gears of War 5.
I'll discuss the games in more detail below, but inbetween those, Microsoft went big on first-party. Ori and the Willow Wisp, Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves content updates, Forza Horizon 4, PUBG console and unveiling a new Battletoads game was part of the show's lineup.
But content is one thing. Its been known for a while that whilst Microsoft's first-party lineup produces the goods, it's still a sort of barren lineup of studios in itself compared to Sony or even Nintendo.
Cue the bombs from Spencer.
Five new studios, including one built from the ground up, added to Microsoft's first-party arsenal. They include:
- The Initiative, a Santa Monica-based team headed up by former Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix studios boss Darrell Gallacher.
- Undead Labs, the creators of State of Decay and who frankly I thought were already first-party in fairness
- Playground Games, the team behind Forza Horizon and who are currently working on a brand new project outside Forza that will be open-world based (coughFABLEcough). This one went around the industry in the past week
- Compulsion Studios, finishing up We Happy Few for an August release
- Ninja Theory, the Cambridge-based studio behind Hellblade, DmC and Heavenly Sword
And it's that last one that is a bombshell. Not in a million years did I expect Ninja Theory to become a first-party studio. But it's deserving for that studio. I've been a massive fan of theirs for years and DmC and Heavenly Sword are up there for me (for numerous reasons, I can't play Hellblade, though what I have played of it is fantastic) as some of my favourite games in recent years.
With confirmation too that Microsoft is working on new AI tech, a cloud platform that allows players to play Xbox games on any device and even confirmation that R&D development on the next Xbox consoles (yes, plural) are already underway, if there was still any lingering talk that Microsoft doesn't want to be in games anymore, consider them put to rest after this.
Five years and five months to the day since that first teaser trailer - 2077 days actually, rather fittingly - and just a touch longer since it was first announced, we finally got our first look at Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt Red.
And before I go any further, can I just say how much I fucking loved how the trailer was unveiled. Spencer is just wrapping up when the show is hacked with Archive's Bullets - the song played in that original teaser trailer - before playing the trailer in what was a fantastic way to close the show (and also showed it didn't need either Halo or Gears as a crux for its need to close the show) from the team who have won the most Game of the Year awards ever with The Witcher III.
Everything shown was a lot more vibrant than I expected, but it's still running in real time in-engine and...fuck it, I'm gonna drop all pretense of professionalism here and say GIMMIE THAT FUCKING GAME NOW.
We still have a lot more questions than answers. CD Projekt Red is hinting at more to come this E3, but the big questions are now when are we going to see gameplay? Who is publishing it? Is it self-published now by CDP?
Either way, LETS GO, BOIS AND GURLS.
But whilst Microsoft went big with first-party stuff, it still had a fuckton of third-party stuff to show and reveal. And a majority of it was stuff I was into. I'll detail a whole bulk of them below, but I want to spotlight a few games that caught my eye.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit - A Life is Strange story: Acting as a prequel ahead of the second season of Life is Strange from DONTNOD Entertainment, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit will see a young boy named Chris, a ten-year old obsessed with super heroes who is dealing with the recent death of his mum with his dad in the state of Oregon. It's out June 26 and free for everyone. You don't need to own either the original Life is Strange or Before the Storm to play or own it too. It's a fully standalone experience leading into Life is Strange 2 introducing us to its characters, setting and more. Check the trailer out if you haven't already. It's the most wonderful thing ever.
Tunic: Or as I like to call it, ZELDA FOX! And it's the most adorable thing. Platform adventuring with the most adorable tiny fox ever is going to be my jam and I am all for it. For a first showing, it impressed super hard.
The Division 2: I went back and played The Division 1 a few weeks ago to see how the Xbox One X update was and I really enjoyed my time back there. So I'm all in on The Division 2 and its new setting of Washington D.C. in summertime and
Seiko: Shadows Never Die: We finally know what From Software's Shadows Die Twice is. And it looks like a samurai Souls game without creepy creatures (mostly) and lore and I'm all for it. Activision is publishing this and is coming out early next year for PS4, Xbox One and PC at the helm of Hidetaka Miyazaki. Now to see what Sucker Punch can show with Ghost of Tsushima on Tuesday, huh.
- Just a brief touching point again on Halo Infinite and holy shit it looks incredible. Plus, hints at a new AI assistant for Chief? No date for that yet.
- Ori and The Willow Wisp looks wonderful. It's also the only game to not make me panic, but in fact go HOW CUTE at a spider in a game, so that's an accomplishment. Out 2019.
- Fallout 76 got a run out here with a proper trailer ahead of the Bethesda event. Looks good. No date at the show, but that'll come after this goes live at the Bethesda event, though pre-orders go live on the Xbox Store on July 15. Also, this gives more of a chance to Starfield being shown.
- Crackdown 3 had its best showing yet and still felt super underwhelming. But I won't ever smile at Terry Crews and I thank god for him and his existence in everything these days, from this to Brooklyn 99. February for this one.
- Nier Automata is coming to Xbox One as a digital-only affair on June 29. BECOME AS GOOOOOOOOOOOOODS!
- Metro Exodus and its Massive Attack-scored trailer was phenomenal. Out February 22 - the same day as Anthem and Days Gone. Also, nothing wrong with this, but whoever is picking Portsmouth-based trip-hop groups for Metro trailers, you deserve a pay rise, my friend (Portishead was used for one of the first Metro: Last Light trailers).
- Kingdom Hearts III got a showing for the first time ever at an Xbox press conference and confirmed a Frozen world and showed off its Rapunzel world for the first time. As announced before the show, that's out January 29.
- Battlefield V had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it story reveal of sorts. That's out in October, the week before a certain westerner comes out.
- Forza Horizon 4 is coming. That's a shocker. It's coming October 2. But I'm gutted it's the UK and not Japan and GIVE ME MY TOKYO-DRIFT BASED FORZA HORIZON GAME, PLAYGROUND, YOU COWARDS. That said, considering how fucking fantastic the previous three games have been, you fucking bet I'll plop all the money in the world down for the Ultimate Edition.
- We Happy Few looks great and comes out August 10, but I'm not getting it because of one big reason. I'll leave it to you to imagine what that is.
- PUBG is still not out of the Xbox Preview Program? Huh?
- For someone who loved the first two modern Tomb Raider games, Shadow of the Tomb Raider just didn't hit with me. Concerning. Out September 14.
- Session is the spiritual successor to Skate we all need from the creators of Skate. No date. Also, genuine LOL at those who actually near erupted thinking this was Skate 4 (if you've been paying attention, Session has been a thing since it was first originally on Kickstarter a few years ago).
- DEVIL MAY MOTHERFUCKING CRY 5. IN LONDON. WITH HIDEKI ITSUNO AT THE HELM. OUT NEXT YEAR. LETS FUCKING GOOOOO. DmC is still the best in the series, though don't @ me.
- More Cuphead with The Delicious Last Course (DLC - hurr hurr). Coming next year.
- Jump Force, a sort of fighting action adventure game combining all the main Shonen Jump properties like Naruto and DragonballZ. Spike Chunsoft making this with Bandai Namco and launches next year. Also, my heart broke a teeny tiny bit that this wasn't Tekken x Street Fighter and I think this was karma's way of paying back the LOL'ing at the Skate/Session confusion on social media.
- DYING LIGHT 2! WITH CHRIS AVELLONE! LETS GOOOOOO!
- Battletoads is coming back!?
- Just Cause 4 launching December 2. Meh. The third game went super south with its endgame stuff and was a tech mess and JC4's first trailer didn't impress much. Here's hoping the Square show will do better.
- Gears Pop is a thing. And it's coming to iOS and Android. Look, you can hate on the Funko Pops all you want - I'm not a fan of them myself, I think they're tacky - but I'm surprised this wasn't already a thing with games already considering how popular they are, so this is shrewd business. Also, as much as I hate the dolls, this I kinda liked. If this came to Xbox One somehow, I'd probably try it.
- Gears of War Tactics is another thing, this time being Gears of War meets XCOM. And I'm all for that. PC only, no date.
- Gears of War 5 is also a thing. Of course it is. And it has Kait as the lead this time. I'm all for this and if it's as good as Gears 4, we're gonna be in for a good time. Out next year.
By upping its commitment to first-party in its biggest way yet and having a ton of stuff that interested me, at least with the majority of it, this is Microsoft's best E3 showing ever. Ever. It gets a nine only because only one or two things didn't interest and didn't stick, but think of it as a high nine verging on the cusp of a ten.
It was that great of a show and a great insight into Xbox's long-term focus within the games industry.