As has now become tradition under Phil Spencer’s regime, this year’s Xbox E3 show was pretty much just a cavalcade of trailer after trailer. Microsoft claimed they showed 60 games throughout their show, but actually – we counted – it was ‘just’ 50 if you discount Game Pass announcements like 2015’s Batman Arkham Knight. Either way, it was a bit of a barrage of information so we’re going to break it down into bite-sized chunks through the magical powers of grouping stuff under headings.
First Party Announcements
Microsoft came into this show already promising to talk about 14 first party games. Considering that since the Xbox One’s launch in 2013, Microsoft have only released 21 internally developed first party games up until now, that’s a significantly huge number. It’s directly representative of the spending spree Xbox Game Studios have been on in the past couple of years, acquiring 5 studios and creating a sixth from scratch. Those acquisitions continued today, with the announcement that Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Studios would be joining Xbox and bringing Psychonauts 2 with them.
A quieter announcement was that Microsoft have also created yet another new studio, named after the game they will be managing going forward – Age of Empires. Shannon Loftis, previously in charge of Microsoft’s publishing business for external studios, will be heading up this new team. What this means for Age of Empires IV, announced last year as in development under Sega’s Relic Entertainment (who, presumably, are not for sale) remains to be seen. What it does mean, though, is that Microsoft are clearly very keen to ensure long term support one of their most popular PC game series after letting it lie fallow for far too long. We can see the beginnings of that in the official reveal of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition, coming to the Windows Store and Steam later this year.
Ninja Theory, Obsidian and inExile
Three of Microsoft’s other recent acquisitions had their moment in the spotlight as well. Wasteland 3‘s first trailer takes the X-COM-ish style gameplay to snowy Colorado and Obsidian‘s The Outer Worlds took a deeper look at the Fallout New Vegas-style gameplay the game will have to offer when it launches – on Xbox One, PC and PS4, on the 25th October.
Ninja Theory‘s new original IP, Bleeding Edge had the wind knocked out of its sails a little bit when the trailer was leaked online days ago, but it seems pretty unfair to hold that against the game. This 4 vs 4 team fighter has a lot of Overwatch style to its design, but the gameplay seemingly couldn’t be more different. Focusing on third person melee combat rather than first person shooting, there might actually be something here to make the game stand out from a rather crowded arena of similar-styled online games. Especially with the Devil May Cry pedigree in melee combat the team is bringing to the table. A ‘technical alpha’ (which would seem to be taken to mean ‘a demo that will probably not work very well’) launches on the 27th June, so it won’t be long before we can see for ourselves what Bleeding Edge has to offer.
Flight Simulator is back
In perhaps the best possible demonstration of Microsoft’s renewed commitment to PC gaming – in a show that was, admittedly, stuffed full of other examples – a new Flight Simulator game was revealed for release next year. The game includes some tie-in to Microsoft’s Azure platform for AI, as well as using satellite data to create 4k photo-realistic recreations of an immeasurable number of real world locations. Microsoft claims you can “fly anywhere on the planet” in the game, and judging by the trailer they might not be exaggerating. This ambitious-looking game might just elevate this cult-favourite series into being a must-have.
Lego Forza and even more State of Decay
Possibly the most exciting first party announcement of the entire show was the collaboration between Playground Games and LEGO to produce the Lego Speed Champions expansion for Forza Horizon 4. Available this week on the 13th June, the expansion adds a new location to the game – LEGO Valley – a load of new Lego-constructed cars and a host of collectable bricks to create a new LEGO home for yourself out of. All of which will also co-exist right alongside the realistic in-game representation of Britain in the main game. It’s a delightfully mad follow-up to the last game’s Hot Wheels expansion and we can’t wait to get our hands on it. The expansion costs £14.99 on its own, but if you’re a Game Pass subscriber, you’ll get 10% off of that, as well as access to Forza Horizon 4 itself. Alternatively, the full Ultimate Edition package is currently on sale for £47.99 – including this expansion, the previous Fortune Island one and all other DLC.
State of Decay 2 also lives up to its zombie theme by refusing to give up quietly. Heartland, a new story expansion starring 2 characters with 2 different tales to tell is available for free for all Game Pass subscribers, right now. Since launch last spring, the game has received a hugely generous amount of free content updates and this latest expansion continues to make the game great value for any Game Pass subscribers who are into killing hordes of zombies in their spare time.
Battletoads are bringing the boom
It’s taken its sweet time, but the long-awaited Battletoads game is finally nearly here. Developed by Dlala Studios alongside Rare, the game is very much a modernised take on the original’s 2D co-op brawling action. We only have “coming soon” as a release date, sadly, but hopefully ‘soon’ isn’t too far away…
A brand new Minecraft game
Minecraft Dungeons is an entirely new game set in the Minecraft ‘universe’ that uses Minecraft‘s distinct visual style to create a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler that you and your friends can join up to hack your way through. Developed by Mojang themselves, the game is not only coming to Xbox and PC but also the Nintendo Switch next spring.
Ori and the Will To Tell Us The Release Date At Last
Moon Studios‘ sequel to the cult-hit Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has been in the incubator for a while. Originally announced in 2017, a new trailer finally gave us a release date of 11th February 2020 to look forward to. There’s a persistent rumour that both the original Ori game and this sequel will be making their way to the Nintendo Switch as well – so this might not be the last we hear of Ori this week…
Big Gears keep on turning
The Coalition‘s Gears of War 5 has been locked in to a late 2019 release for a while as it is, so the announcement of the game’s release on the 10th September isn’t really the headline of the game’s latest visit to the E3 stage. Instead, Microsoft chose to focus on the reveal of a new Left 4 Dead style multiplayer mode, ‘Escape’. Promising couch co-op for the mode as well as online play, this gruesome new mode sees you and up to two friends team up to infiltrate a hive, plant a bomb and then survive getting the hell out of dodge. It looks like there are several characters you can choose to play as in this and other modes – including the T800 from the Terminator series to tie in with this year’s movie, if you happen to pre-order the game or get it at launch through Game Pass.
A ‘tech test’ will be taking place on the 15th July where players can get their first chance to try out Gears of War 5‘s PvP multiplayer. Other game modes, on top of the story-based campaign, include an ‘Arcade’ mode and the return of the classic ‘Horde’ mode. Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can also get access to the game 4 days early on the 6th September and of course play the entire game for ‘free’ as part of their subscription.
There was also the first look at the Funko Pop branded mobile free to play Gears of War spin-off. Amazingly, that’s a real sentence based on fact and not one fed out from a “horrifying gaming nightmare” mad libs generator.
All the above games are first party Xbox Studios games, but not all of them are exclusive to Xbox. In fact, technically none of them are – as all of them will be available on PC as well. Ignoring that complication for a moment, though, only 13 games in total across the 50 featured in the show are – to some degree – Xbox exclusives. As well as those above, there are also these three below:
A somewhat surprising reveal from Layers of Fear developer Bloober this trailer does such a good job of capturing that Blair Witch style that we were originally chiding the game for straight up just ripping the movie off while watching the event. Until the familiar logo itself started to form and it became clear why it was so similar… There aren’t many details about what to expect from the game beyond being a very Blair Witchy experience in first person. Also that there’s a dog – but since that poor dog is definitely going to die, that’s perhaps a negative… The game comes out on the 30th August and although it wasn’t announced as such, it will be an Xbox and PC exclusive. At least for now.
Phantasy Star Online 2 returns from the dead
Six years ago Sega announced that Phantasy Star Online 2, having just recently launched in Japan at the time, would be heading to the West ‘soon’. That ‘soon’ was meant to be 2013. Instead, Sega promptly forgot they ever said it at all and the game remained exclusive to Japan. Quite what happened isn’t clear, but perhaps the fact that Microsoft are providing backing via their Azure server network for this Western release indicates that the infrastructure scale required was just never cost effective for Sega. As a result of that partnership, when Phantasy Star Online 2 finally launches in North america next year (and only North America – Europe is still being left out of the party for the time being) it will be an Xbox console exclusive.
Caught in the Crossfire X
Also coming exclusively (at least initially) to Xbox straight from Asia is Crossfire X. An adaptation of one of South Korea’s most popular first person shooters, Crossfire. Deveoped by Smilegate, you’d be entirely forgiven for not having heard of Crossfire on this side of the world. The free-to-play online shooter launched in 2007 in Korea and clocks up 8 million concurrent players every day across the Asian countries it’s currently available in. We’ll have to wait until 2020 to see how the game translates to Western tastes, though. The game is also merely a timed console exclusive so we’ll almost certainly see it on one Playstation or another eventually too.
Exclusively no more…
Those are all of the games that you can only play on Xbox (or PC, or Switch, or Android/iOS) when they launch. Well, except for one big one that we’ll come back to later…
While that’s actually a solid amount of games, it does still seem like Microsoft are struggling to answer the question of exclusive games even after all these years. But, perhaps, that’s not really the battleground that Microsoft sees themselves fighting on any more anyway. Aside from the last three games, all of the rest of the above will also all launch on Game Pass on day one. For either £7.99 or £10.99 a month – depending on whether you choose to combine your Game Pass and Gold subscriptions into the ‘Ultimate’ package – that’s a lot of great value based on those games alone.
In total, 36 out of the 50 games featured in Microsoft’s show are all available on Xbox Game Pass. That’s just shy of three quarters – all available for nothing more than that one subscription.
Perhaps it just doesn’t matter as much that you can play some of those games on other systems when you can play all of them on an Xbox without spending a penny more than you already have?
More games though!
There were still plenty more games at the show. All of the rest of these games are multiplatform titles from third parties. With the exception of the [email protected] indie titles, these games will not be on Game Pass, however.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Somehow this 2 minute trailer ended up being a significantly better look at EA‘s biggest Star Wars game yet than their own 15 minute deep dive on Saturday. There were sadly no other details than a bit of a wider view of the game’s cinematic gameplay, though.
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
The second Star Wars and second Lego game to feature in the show, this game remakes the previous Lego Star Wars releases and also throws The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker into the mix to complete the saga. Although later Lego games ended up adding voice acting, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens maintained the pantomime style of the original Lego Star Wars games and this trailer confirms that they’re continuing to faithfully stick to that. The game will launch in 2020 on the Xbox One, PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Last year, Bandai Namco announced that they were making a new kind of Dragon Ball game that would, rather than being a fighting game with a story mode bodged on, be a story game with fighting bodged on. That game, Dragon Ball Z Kakarot is an action RPG that places you directly in the role of Goku (aka Kakarot) throughout the story of Dragon Ball Z. It seems a must-have for Dragon Ball fans, but perhaps might be too much of a deep dive for everyone else.
Arise, Sir Tales Of
Although it was spoiled a little early, this look at the latest Tales of game is still mightily impressive. Bandai Namco’s long running JRPG series has never looked so good. Safe to say, if you’re a JRPG fan you’ll want to keep an eye out for this one. The Xbox One X might also seem to be the best console to do those stunning visuals justice too, so it’ll be fascinating to see more of the game next year.
Lord of the Elden Rings
Serial procrastinator, George R. R. Martin is back doing exactly everything but the thing you really actually want him to be doing. The cinematic trailer for Elden Ring, a collaboration between the author behind all but the last book of the Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series and Sekiro/Bloodborne/Dark Souls developer From Software, reveals very few details beyond being a bit Lord of the Ringsy.
We suspect that for a lot of people, those two names are all that are really needed to garner interest anyway. But, if how long it takes him to write a book that other people already wrote, filmed, edited and put out on TV for him is any indication, even 2020 might be optimistic for Elden Ring.
Dying Light 2 and Borderlands
Dying Light 2 continues to slowly trundle towards existing. Now expected to launch next spring, there weren’t really any new details at this year’s E3. This zombie game sees you rebuilding a city and affecting its growth in the wake of the zombie apocalypse by the decisions you make in helping the people within it. Making it slightly more than a typical zombie slash-em-up.
Meanwhile, Borderlands 3 made a customary appearance at the show with a new trailer but not much else. A temporarily free DLC pack for Borderlands 2, connecting the two games is now available for download, though. And the Borderlands Handsome Collection is also now available on Game Pass.
Of all of the third party content in the show though, pride of place has to be the extended presentation for Cyberpunk 2077. Following on from last year’s initial gameplay reveal, this latest cinematic trailer sees your character endure tragedy and betrayal before coming face to face with none other than Keanu Reeves himself.
Reeves appeared live on stage to announce the game’s long-awaited release date: 16th April 2020. As officially the Nicest Man In Hollywood, the positive energy Reeves brought to the stage and to Cyberpunk itself is something the game kind of needed to balance out the somewhat rough time CD Projekt Red have had in approaching the game’s potentially sensitive themes. Pity the revealed box art immediately undid plenty of that by ditching the rest of the game’s aesthetics to simply feature the blandest white dude protagonist this side of Jedi: Fallen Order, but oh well.
We’ll cover the Indie and [email protected] titles showcased in a separate article, but at a total count of 24, they were just shy of making up half of all the games in this year’s E3 briefing. Most aren’t exclusives in any way, but all but 2 are coming to Game Pass at launch, so there’s really no excuse to not give most of them a go.
Although the late 2020 launch of the next Xbox console was confirmed, not a lot else was when it comes to the future of Xbox. We do at least know that XCloud – Microsoft’s game streaming service – will launch in preview form later this year around October. Just before Google Stadia does. Though pricing, content, or any other real details besides are lacking right now.
As well as being able to stream games from Microsoft’s servers, streaming locally from your own console will also be an option, much like Sony’s Remote Play feature on the PS Vita, for the handful of people who owned one.
Scarlett, meanwhile, promises native support of 8K gaming, framerates up to 120fps, significantly decreased loading times thanks to next-generation SSDs and real time ray-tracing. While a lot of those stats also line up with Sony’s plans for the Playstation 5, Microsoft’s claim that Scarlett will be four times as powerful as the already beastly Xbox One X might yet take some beating.
Real details, like a name, will be at least a year away but don’t expect any of this to come cheap. Scarlett is expected to be pitched as a highly premium device, sitting well above the Xbox One X and a rumoured, cheaper, middle-step between the two.
Gregorian chanting can only mean one thing
Presented as a sort of tech demo for what Xbox Scarlett can achieve with all that power and ray tracing magic, this first look at Halo Infinite purportedly achieves in-engine the kind of visuals and effects you would need to painstakingly pre-render on today’s hardware. But while no-one can argue that the trailer didn’t look great, it does represent the difficulty of the task ahead for both Microsoft and Sony of selling what they can now do here as revolutionary enough to drop what’s likely to be well over £500 on new consoles.
The visual fidelity and complexity afforded in the leap to the HD consoles of the Xbox 360 and PS3 changed the kind of games we play forever. The Xbox One and PS4 allowed developers to continue pushing in making more detailed, cinematic game worlds. The next step up will absolutely open the doors to an incredible wealth of cinematic-style gameplay opportunities, but it’ll be hard to really tell the difference between now and then because our brains are pretty good at tricking us that “actually, this is how it’s always been”…
It’s over… it’s done…
Finally, we reach the end of the show. These barrages of content can often be really hard to parse in the moment. It’s only really when you sit back and go through it all again that you can appreciate each individual announcement for what it actually is. Rather than being a barnstorming, name-taking, ass-kicking year for Xbox as you’d have expected, with Sony not bothering to show up at all, everything still feels like a coiled spring just waiting for the new consoles to drop. Many of these announcements are not due at all until next year and there are many more both here and pointedly not here (looking at you, Fable…) that will now be held back entirely for the next generation of consoles.
Even the first party content Microsoft got to bring to the table as a result of its acquisition-spree is still primarily just stuff those studios were already working on when they bought them. The full pay-off of those acquisitions, and potentially even more to come, will still be years away.
All in all, this show can reasonably be described as “holding down the fort” while everyone looks ahead to the next several years. That’s not to say there’s not a huge wealth of great games in this show that we can play before next E3, though. And with Game Pass so thoroughly dominating the discussion when it comes to Xbox these days, it seems that even that might just be an indicator of greater things to come.