So, e3 2014 has finally arrived: The world’s premier event for all things pixelated and game related. Microsoft kicked-off the event with their press conference, and expectations were higher than, well, something that’s really, really high. As we’ve mentioned before at TwinStick, Microsoft have spent much of the last year recovering from e3 2013, which, I think it’s fair to say, didn’t go too well for them. Obviously, they really didn’t want to repeat that, and given how well they have recovered in the last few months, everyone was looking for big, high-impact things from them.
So, anyway, without further ado, here’s how it all played out…….
From the moment Phil Spencer took to the stage, it became quite clear that both he and Microsoft had learned the lessons of the past year, and he immediately thanked the fans of Xbox for their continued support. Extending the theme, he then went on to say how their feedback had been instrumental, and would continue to shape the future of the Xbox and the Xbox community. One didn’t have to be an expert at reading between the lines to figure out that this was both an apology for having crossed them last year, and a promise that it would never happen again. In this respect, this was the first test passed – and with flying colours.
Then, after a few general nods in the direction of Microsoft’s big rivals, and talking about how increased competition between them would only benefit gamers in general, Spencer went on to announce what this year’s presentation would be all about: Big Games!!
And the first reveal was, indeed, a big game; the much anticipated Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Although, and to be clear, this won’t be an Xbox exclusive, Spencer was keen to point out that there would be “exclusive content” for Xboxers. An extended gameplay demo ensued, and it did all look pretty impressive, if a little science fiction-ey. Stand out moments included swarm things, some pretty intelligent grenades, and just generally fantastic looking graphics. As the first true next-gen CoD, I think it’s fair to say that fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed.
The next segment was an Xbox exclusive, in the sleek, shiny sports car shape of Forza Horizon 2, which will be available as soon as September 30th. I’m not a massive racing game fan, but it did all look spectacular, and is set to feature such fancy-schmancy things as dynamic weather, a huge list of drivable cars, as well as the ability to create “communities” of up to 1000 players. It was also announced that a new track – nurburgring – is now available for immediate download for Forza 5 players.
Following this, we got a bit more information on a couple of games, which, whilst not being Xbox exclusives, would all feature either exclusive content, or would premier on the Xbox One. There was Evolve, which will have an exclusive beta on Xbox One, and feature exclusive dlcs for the console, and Dragon Age: Inquisition which will have “Premier Content” on the Xbox One, and will be released on October 7th.
Other games that won’t be platform exclusive, but did feature in Microsoft’s presser included, Assassin’s Creed: Unity; Rise of the Tomb Raider; Tom Clancy’s The Division; and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
AC: Unity was given an extended gameplay demo, mainly to highlight the newest innovation –the ability to build your own brotherhood in the shape of 4 player co-op play. Set on the eve of the French Revolution, we were treated to a peek at some exquisite visuals, and what appeared to be pretty seamless co-op play – providing a whole new approach to playing the main story aspects of the game. Rise of the Tomb Raider, whilst looking awesome, and getting me genuinely excited, was little more than a trailer, and a short one at that. However The Division and Witcher 3 both showed actual gameplay. The Witcher demo looked reasonably standard, but The Division one was awesome. I might be biased here, because this game is one of the main reasons I blew the kids’ college fund on a next-gen console, but it really does look like it’s going to be something quite special, in terms of scope, graphics and gameplay.
Anyway, now that’s the rest of the general stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the exclusive stuff: In other words, the shots Microsoft have fired off in the latest round of the console war.
Coming first chronologically, and as we predicted, we saw some pretty impressive stuff from Sunset Overdrive. A brief introduction was followed by a few joyous minutes of actual gameplay, and boy did we like what we saw. Colourful, zany, riddled with dry humour, and incredibly addictive, Sunset Overdrive is likely to be a genuine console shifter for the Xbox one.
Fable Legends also got a fairly extended showing, as we thought it would. It all looked solidly decent, and the addition of the Uber-baddie aspect certainly brings an extra dimension to the colourful, ogre-slaying gameplay, and seems like a genuinely innovative and commendable approach to next-gen multiplayer gameplay.
There was also a brief preview of something called Scalebound (dragons and whatnot), the announcement that original Xbox game Phantom Dust would be re-booted, and an intriguing, if slightly weird, preview of a 2D platformer called Orin and the Blind Forest (think Disney meets Twin Peaks). On this note, Microsoft seemed keen to give some attention to ID@Microsoft, and Project Spark, which would strongly suggest they’re interested in challenging Sony in the independent developer/Dev aspect of the gaming market, and many of the Project Spark games did look hugely enjoyable.
Now, before we continue, I should point out that Rich Keech is currently doing an “I told you so/victory” dance around the Twinstick Offices, having told me to include a bit about Crackdown in my pre-e3 prediction piece, and because I overruled him on account of being absolutely, positively certain that it wouldn’t feature at e3. Anyway, Crackdown did indeed feature, albeit in a weird, non-committal kind of way, and certainly not with any real information about actual gameplay, but that’s almost certainly not going to stop the dancing anytime soon, though! Crackdown is coming to the Xbox One.
However, in an effort to repair my dented pride, the biggest news of the day, and the Pièce de résistance of Microsoft’s presser was, undoubtedly, the Halo stuff – which, for the record, I did call (and for bonus points, Phil Spencer even echoed my sentiments about it being integral to the Xbox brand!). It was revealed that the much rumoured Master Chief Collection would be hitting shelves on Nov 11th and feature a ridiculously impressive amount of goodies for Halo Fans.
Not only would the collection include Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, 3, and 4 (all re-mastered for the power and capabilities of the Xbox One), but also Halo Nightfall (Live Action Halo, with Executive Producer Ridley Scott), custom playlists, 100 multiplayer maps, and, and…..access to the Halo 5: Guardians Beta in December.
And speaking of Halo 5 – from what we saw of that, it all looks totally a-mazing! If there are any Halo fans out there who have so far been reluctant to upgrade to the next-gen consoles, I’d bet a lot of money that this may just have persuaded them, because it was Halo turned up to 11, and then some. Indeed, the whole thing – Master Chief Collection, TV show, Halo 5 – is pretty much the definitive, deluxe Halo package, and I absolutely don’t expect many people will want to miss out on any of it.
All-in-all, it was a very solid showing from Microsoft. Much of the time was taken up with non-exclusive games, which may not push on-the-fence next generation gamers in their direction, necessarily, but certainly won’t do their chances any harm. Then, when you factor in the exclusives which were shown, I think it’s fair to say Microsoft have upped the ante, and almost certainly put this last, mostly unsuccessful, year behind them.
This was reiterated in many ways by Spencer’s last comments, when he stated that Microsoft “will listen” to Xbox gamers, and continue to make the Xbox a thing that is aimed at, and responsive to, its core community. They’ve done their penance, it seems, learned their lessons, and are now ready to get back to providing their community with an abundance of really great games. In that respect, they used e3 2014 to show that they’re ready, willing and able to do exactly that!!
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