E3’17 – Microsoft Conference

On Sunday, June 11, Microsoft took the stage for what was likely the most anticipated presentation of all of E3 2017. We have all seen the hardware stats for the new Scorpio console, but we wanted to know more and, most of all, see the games that are to be offered on “the most powerful console ever.” The conference did not disappoint in the console reveal nor in the shear number of games presented.

Microsoft wasted no time at the conference bringing forward the console we have all known as Scorpio for some time. The console received its official title of XBox One X (X Box One X = XBOX) and was presented as an enthusiast console that sits along side the XBox One S in the Microsoft console product line (similar to Sony’s presentation of the PS4 Pro along side the PS4). Microsoft confirmed the power of the One X that had previously been revealed to Digital Foundry, complete with the six TFLOP GPU and 12 GB of DDR5 ram. According to Microsoft, this will allow many of the games developed for the One X to run at native 4K resolutions with 30 to 60 frames per second (fps). For those of us who do not yet have 4K televisions, the One X will provide upgrades to games on 1080p HD screens with higher frame rates and techniques like supersampling (resolving the game at 4K then down sampling to 1080p, creating a co-processed antialiasing). Special cooling and packaging allow the One X to be the smallest XBOX console that has been released to date coming in at roughly two controllers wide. Microsoft also ensured the audience that all games released for the One X will also be compatible with the One S and visa versa, including all of those backward compatible XBox 360 games. Most importantly to many general consumers, Microsoft announced the release date of November 7 and price of $499 in the US. Many in the industry hoping for a $399 console seemingly were living in a dream world based on the hardware being used (the GPU alone is likely $150-$200). $499 is an interesting price given that the PS4 Pro comes in at $399 (likely to be $350 soon) and the One S is now available for $200.

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One misstep that I feel Microsoft made in the marketing of the One X is the message that it is a console competitor, seemingly against the PS4 Pro. The continued phrase of “the most powerful console” certainly could bring people over from the PS4 Pro, but it ignores the segment that may have or be interested in PC gaming. Keep in mind that all One X games will also be available on Windows 10, which means anyone looking to purchase a gaming PC will not need a One X. I am currently in that position, just needing a new graphics card to complete my gaming PC build, and I am not at all interested in the One X at this point. To me, Microsoft should have turned away from the famed console wars and instead make a statement about the power and cost of the One X against PC gaming. Consumers can buy an One X for $499 and play the latest mainstream titles at ultra settings or they can get a gaming PC that needs 20-30% more performance for $800-$1000. This comparison makes a lot more sense than pitting the One X against the PS4 Pro, both of which are likely to have similar looking titles, albeit with the One X at native 4K and the PS4 Pro upscaled.

As for the games, Microsoft presented plenty of them (23 by my count, and I’m sure I missed a bunch in my notes). Many of these games were listed as exclusives or “console launch exclusive”, which likely means some timed release agreement. As mentioned before, all XBox exclusives were also listed as being available on Windows 10, possibly via the Windows 10 store. Since there were too many games to cover all of them in detail, I’m going to hit my highlights and likely leave out any titles that were shown in more detail at another conference.

What better way to show off new power of a console than a car game? Forza Motorsports 7 set the stage for what the One X can do by showing full gameplay at 4K resolution and 60 fps. I’m not a big racing game fan personally, but the video really looked good and the added character personalization is fantastic. My only nit is that the car interiors did not look up to the same pedigree as the exteriors and scenery with flat textures and cartoonish gauges. Beyond that, I’m sure racing fans will love what this game can do.

From 4A Games, Metro Exodus is a sequel to 2010’s Metro 2033 and 2013’s Metro Last Light. Much like the first two, the game is set in a post apocalyptic wasteland of the Russian Federation. Not much is known about the game story, but we do know it will feature weapon customization, a mix of linear and sandbox environments, and day/night cycles. The demo showed during the conference looked very good, but I also could not help but think about the E3 2005 debut of Killzone 2, whose trailer ended up being overblown when compared to the visuals and gameplay of the release. Hopefully this Metro Exodus is much closer to the final product.

I am going to briefly mention PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds because this is the first time a console release for the hit PC early access game has been confirmed. During the conference, the game was listed as a “launch exclusive”, which I read as a timed exclusive. However, recent rumors point to this solidifying as an XBox exclusive. No word of this is given on the developer’s website, so time will only tell if the news is true.

Zombie adventure State of Decay 2, announced at the 2016 E3, was shown in full glory on the Microsoft stage. The game offers typical zombie combat, including vehicles, multiplayer cooperative action, and a base-building survival mechanic. There is still some work to be done on the game, but it shows promise for those of us who enjoy cooperative gaming.

In what is certainly a nice surprise of E3, The Last Night developed by Odd Tales is an XBox/Windows 10 launch exclusive title (which, like Battlegrounds, is rumored to now by pure exclusive). The game is a 2.5D title, meaning it is a side scroller that has some elements of depth. It very much looks like 1992’s Flashback or 1997’s Blade Runner in its pixel art styling and noir tone. Despite causing some controversy of what the director may have Tweeted three years ago, the game is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Sea of Thieves, a game originally announced at E3 2015 and currently available in a beta, was shown for a good 10 minutes during the Microsoft conference due to its console exclusivity. The game is a multiplayer cooperative or competitive adventure where you play as a pirate on the high seas, seeking treasure on wrecks and islands. The game certainly looks interesting, but as someone just seeing it for the first time, more questions were raised about the gameplay. What can you do with your crew? Can you sail different ships in a fleet? Does the game have a story or goal? This is not likely a game I would put on my list, but I can certainly see the appeal for those looking to create their own adventure with friends in a sandbox.

Microsoft also presented the much anticipated Crackdown 3 trailer. Many fans of the original game have been waiting for a sequel that takes full advantage of today’s internet and console power, and this seems to be that sequel. The game can be played through with friends or in a competitive multiplayer mode where the entire city is fully destructible. Your character receives upgrades on their way to causing destruction and taking back a city from crime syndicates. While the gameplay looks interesting, the art style reminds me too much of Borderlands or the recent Saints Row games. While I don’t dislike the style, textures look a bit muddy for a game made for the One X. Perhaps future gameplay videos will tell a different tale.

Finally, Anthem was revealed after the teaser announcement at EA’s conference. Not only was it revealed, but full gameplay was shown. Anthem is very much Destiny like in its world and presentation, but with much greater movement enabled by the exosuit (BioWare definitely took a note from Mass Effect: Andromeda’s combat movement). The exosuit provides an ability to fly through the world, engaging enemies and unfriendly local animals. All of this takes place with friends in cooperative play with what appeared to be up to four people. The game looks very good visually and provides an interesting setting that could bolster a great story. Time will tell.

The Microsoft conference was perhaps the most information packed of all of the E3 presentations, giving viewers a look at the new console as well as the games it will run. To that end, Microsoft did what they needed to do: provide a powerful console and then show the games. However, their marketing message still needs a bit more work to move away from the console wars and more into selling the idea of a $500 console in a field of much less expensive options.

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