Opinion: E32016 Microsoft Press Briefing

Microsoft has officially dropped the gauntlet with their jam packed press briefing at E3 this morning. Lots of announcements; more than we’ll cover here, but just a few of them with my thoughts on each.

THE HARDWARE


XBOX ONE S

Microsoft made a point of saying that all xbox one games will be playable on both this new slim version, as well as the 2017 yet unnamed console upgrade. The S will be 40% smaller including no more external power brick which will make this infinitely more portable. I know a few people that travel with their console and this will make the hardware instantly worth the additional purchase. The hardware will support improved color output which means richer, more vibrant colors in games and video via High Dynamic Range technology support. The blu-ray player will be upgraded to support 4K/Ultra-HD playback and the hardware will support 4K playback via existing services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Not really advertised loudly enough is that some Kinect features like the IR Blaster capability will be built into the new console. That means you’ll be able to start your TV and mediacenter equipment as you currently can with your Kinect.

Oh, and most important of all; up to a 2TB HDD. The console pricing starts at $299 with a 500GB drive and will also support a sku of 1TB and 2TB.

You’ll be able to display the XBOX both horizontally, as well as vertically; as was possible with the previous XBOX 360 generation of hardware. This should be great for people with additional space constraints as is the case in dorm rooms, for example.

Also included will be an updated version of the XBOX ONE wireless controller which will bring support for bluetooth-based un-tethered binding to your PC and increased wireless range, along with some minor, but helpful cosmetic improvements.  Along with the introduction of this improved gamepad is the ability to purchase a customized colors version of the controller via a program called Xbox Design Labs.  It’ll cost you about $80 for the privilege, but you’ll be able to create something like the sample versions I created below.

xboxcontroller_custom1 xboxcontroller_custom1b

xboxcontroller_custom2 xboxcontroller_custom2b

xboxcontroller_custom3 xboxcontroller_custom3b

xboxcontroller_custom4 xboxcontroller_custom4b

XBOX Two a.k.a PROJECT SCORPIO
Briefly talked about was this newer console which will be nearly twice the power of the also rumored Playstation 4.5 console. The main reason that both Sony and Microsoft are making new consoles so soon is that they’re both trying to get a headstart on the VR revolution. Both the current Playstation 4 and XBOX ONE are underpowered for purposes of playing higher end VR experiences (think Oculus and VIVE) so, an upgrade will be necessary if they want to make those experiences available to console gamers. Sony has the less power hungry PS-VR coming later this year, but that headset does not have the ability to compete head-on with Oculus and other PC VR solutions in terms of fidelity of experience.

The good news with Scorpio though is that Microsoft confirms that all existing and future XBOX ONE games and hardware accessories will simply work with the new system; including X360 backwards compatibility titles that you carried over.  Microsoft also plans to bring backwards compatibility for the original xbox console, as well, so this could mean a huge library for long time supporters of the platform.  Win-win.

XBOX LIVE : NEW SOFTWARE FEATURE
A number of new features were announced as coming to XBOX on the software side. A great feature from the last generation of XBOX was the ability to play music in the background while playing a game. This allowed you to play your own music playlist instead of the score/soundtrack of a given game. It’s a seemingly throwaway feature that actually makes a huge difference for those that discovered and took advantage of it.

Also, coming:

  • Cortana will be a decided and welcome upgrade to the Kinect voice controls. Though actually the feature will be available using your XBOX headset, as well. So, no Kinect required.
  • Arena is a feature that will make it easier for gamers to find and then join to compete in multiplayer tournaments.  Basically a multiplayer games hub.
  • Clubs will allow you to form non-game specific communities with like minded folks that can follow you from title to title.
  • Looking for Groups is probably the most broadly useful feature and essentially allows you to create an ad-hoc/temporary friend request for purposes of playing through a multi-player experience. So, you could form (for example) a temporary and specialized 4-player team to play through a dungeon quest or say you have no friends, but need a co-op partner to help you get that elusive multi-player only achievement. It’s a great feature that should help player make more friends and just plain build the XBL community.

 

THE GAMES

As with last year, Microsoft continues to concentrate much of their game presentations on titles that are coming in the near future.  2016 releases like Forza Horizon 3 and ReCore and updates on games coming early next year including Scalebound and Tekken 7.  I have no doubt Sony will give them a run for their money, but it’ll be equally as interesting to see just how many of this year’s Sony offering will be coming soon titles.

Here are some of the titles shown off and my thoughts on each.

SEA OF THIEVES

RARE appears to have a return to form with their upcoming title Sea of Thieves.  A release date was not mentioned, but from last year to this, the game appears to have received a radical overhaul of its visuals.  Not clear how far along in development this game is, but compared to last year’s presentation — this looks ready to play, any moment now.  Of all the games that Microsoft showed off, this open world pirate adventure is my most anticipated future first-party title.  Can’t wait to take down my first kraken!

HALO WARS 2

Real-time strategy games aren’t really my thing, but the Halo Wars series is one of the more intuitive console RTS titles out there.  It’s no surprise then that the first game is the best selling RTS on consoles; ever.  As a big player of the HALO games in general, I make an exception to play this; if for no other reason than to delve deeper into the lore.  This is just a cinematic trailer obviously, but developer 343 Industries showed the gameplay off at the PC Game Show later that evening and it looks like a worthy successor to this franchise spinoff.

STATE OF DECAY 2

As zombie games go, this is one of the few that has created such a large and vibrant community around it and I suspect the fans of the original were losing their minds when the logo came up for this.  This next game in the series looks to have received the appropriate level of next-gen polish, but we’ll have to wait and see some actual gameplay to know whether the long wait has been worth it.

 

SCALEBOUND CO-OP GAMEPLAY

Scalebound is a game that still seems to be finding its footing.  This new demo was a look at the co-op gameplay and it looks appropriately big.  The giant scorpion-crab monster looks intense and the game’s producer Hideki Kamiya (Bayonetta, Devil May Cry) explained that boss creatures like the scorpion may grow additional appendages to increase difficulty during co-op play throughs.  The entire game will be playable in co-op mode. Positives aside though, I was a little disappointed by the overall demo as shown off during the keynote.   It seems clear the game has some serious tightening left to be done before release early next year, but I have faith in Kamiya’s attention to detail in the game mechanics department.

RECORE GAMEPLAY

From Armature, the developers of Metroid Prime and Keiji Inafune the creator of Mega Man, Onimusha, and Resident Evil game series is this new third person platform action game.  It was good to finally see the gameplay of this much anticipated title and Microsoft says this will be available in September for a mere $40.  The game mechanics on this look to be a melding of the best bits of Prince of Persia, Mega Man, and Ikaruga?!  Based solely on the few minutes I’ve spied in post-briefing interviews, I can’t wait to get my hands on this in a few months where I’ll get the chance to rocket boot around and do some major robot jacking and orb collecting.

FORZA HORIZON 3

This game looks just plain beautify.  To this point I’ve been a much bigger fan of the mainline FORZA MOTORSPORT game than this series although I’ve played both the first and second Horizon games.  It says something that I own all the Motorsport games and have yet to do more than a rental of these Horizon titles.  They just haven’t been as compelling to me. Horizon 3 looks like it’ll change my mind about that though.  The move to a more rugged landscape is a really great idea and the introduction of real off-road vehicles is a welcome change.  I hope they release a demo soon for this as I can’t wait to get my hands on.

 

DEAD RISING 4

DR4 looks set to take us back to the roots of the franchise with a return to the original protagonist Frank West from the first game and even the fan favorite Mall setting.  There really isn’t much to say about this other than I hope to break a lot of store windows in pursuit of the ultimate zombie killing creation.  The developer promises a ten fold increase in zombies on screen so, I expect we’ll be seeing another record breaking undead massacre on our hands.

 

FULL PRESS BRIEFING VIDEO

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