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E3 2019: Microsoft Recap

by Tanner Kinney As this generation of consoles winds down, the last couple E3’s are usually fairly tame. The big three companies will all hold their cards and wait to see how they can one-up their competition and capitalize on their mistakes. As such, with both Sony and EA stepping away from a formal conference this year, E3 feels surprisingly empty this year. It’s likely that next year will be the one where Sony announces the PS5, waiting until it’s ready to ship. This year, however, there are plenty of rumors around Microsoft’s conference. With Halo Infinite and Gears of War 5 on the menu already, along with dozens of new titles they are planning to announce, there’s a lot of buzz. Banjo is said to be making a return somewhere, which is leading people to predict either him as Smash Ultimate DLC or in a remake/remaster of the original Banjo-Kazooie, all ignoring the possibility of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts 2. Most promising though, are the rumors around the Xbox Scarlett project, which is said to be their next-gen console. If Microsoft can nail a console announcement and have it out by the winter, it could be the head start Microsoft needs to trail blaze into the next generation. All eyes are on Microsoft to show something truly amazing.

World premieres and major titles

  • Microsoft leads the conference with Obsidian's highly-anticipated space exploration RPG, The Outer Worlds
    • Short narrative/gameplay trailer shows off a beautiful open world featuring tons of choices and customization
    • Releasing October 25, 2019 for Xbox One and PC as and Epic Games Store exclusive
  • Ninja Theory walked out to announce they are working on a number of projects, namely their third-person competitive multiplayer game, Bleeding Edge.
    • The game is colorful and stylish, loaded with personality, and features a focus on melee combat in an arena environment.
    • The game will be released in a technical alpha June 27
  • The trailer for Mojang’s new Diablo-esque top-down action-game, Minecraft: Dungeons, was given an announcement trailer.
    • The game features local and online co-op, a classic Minecraft artstyle, and the classic hack-and-slash gameplay the genre is famous for.
    • The game will release Spring 2020
  • A trailer for Jedi: Fallen Order was shown at the conference.
    • The game is single-player, featuring lightsaber combat and a focus on mobility and exploration.
    • The game will release November 15, 2019.
  • A world premiere for a new forest-walking, flashlight-pointing, camcorder focused horror game, Blair Witch, was shown.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 was shown in greater detail with a new narrative trailer.
    • The gritty, cyberpunk aesthetic is amazingly complimented by an obnoxious censor for the swears.
    • Keanu Reeves is in it (and on stage), for some reason.
    • This announcement certainly Keanu Leaves the audience in shock.
    • Keanu Heaves heavy plot exposition, explaining the basic details of the game.
    • The game will Keanu Release April 16, 2020
  • Another world premiere was shown for a 2D-side-scrolling exploration game titled Spiritfarer.
    • The game features a hand-drawn artstyle and a base management system
  • A new trailer was shown for Battletoads.
    • A crazy impressive art-style, and some brief gameplay, are shown. It features beat-em-up action and three-player couch co-op.
  • The Legend of Wright, a literal pen-and-paper RPG, is shown.
    • The game’s creative usage of various cut-out art styles compliment a dungeon crawling experience.
    • The game will release 2020.
  • Xbox Game Pass for PC launches in open beta today, featuring a number of major titles announced and available.
    • A world premiere, captured in real-time 4K, powered by satellite data and Azubu AI, is shown for… a flight-simulator, specifically Microsoft Flight Simulator
  • A trailer for a new Wasteland game is shown, taking place in Colorado Springs and featuring wacky, Borderlands-esque non-humor.
  • A new trailer for Psychonauts 2 is finally shown.
    • Some gameplay and narrative elements are shown, and the platforming style remains intact.
  • A world premiere for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, shown
    • Releasing 2020
  • A trailer was shown for Dragonball Z: Kakarot, a new action-RPG, was shown.
  • Gears of War 5 was, of course, given a new trailer at this conference.
    • The incredibly weird and psychedelic trailer creates intrigue and confusion for the game, surprisingly abstract for the Gears series.
    • The game will release September 10th, 2019.
    • July 17th will have the multiplayer test, with a Horde Mode test in August.
    • Another, more in-depth, traditional trailer is shown for the new game mode, “Escape”, featuring an awful song that samples “Crazy Train”
  • A world premiere for a new Forza game, featuring a life-size Lego car on stage, is shown.
    • The game looks to be a new Lego Racers game created by Playground Studios, featuring customizable cars and wacky, off-the-wall racing.
    • The expansion, titled Lego Speed Champions, will release this week.
  • A world premiere is shown for the Western release of Phantasy Star Online 2, a free-to-play MMORPG that was long-time exclusive to Japan.
    • The game will release 2020 in the West.
  • A world premiere trailer is shown for Crossfire, some kind of cooperative action-game.
    • The game will release in 2020.
  • A world premiere trailer is shown for the new Tales game, Tales of Arise, featuring some story elements and a very impressive aesthetic.
    • The game will release in 2020.
  • A world premiere trailer for FromSoftware’s new game, Elden Ring, is shown.
    • The game is a joint project between Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R.R. Martin
  • At the end of the conference, Phil Spencer talks about the new Xbox console, Project Scarlett; designed, built, and optimized for gaming. That’s right, no TV
    • A long explanation from the designers, in what was basically buzzword bingo, says both everything and nothing about the Scarlett.
    • We got a logo, and an announcement for a Holiday 2020 release window.
  • Project Scarlett will launch with Halo Infinite, as shown in the closing trailer of the show.
    • The impressive tech of the Scarlett is… not really shown off here.
  • No Super Smash Bros logo was shown… yet.

The Good

Microsoft, for the years since Phil Spencer took the helm, has been about one thing: showing off games. And to their credit, this year was once again filled to the breaking point with dozens of amazing, unique, and most importantly exclusive games. The games shown this year were mostly from Microsoft’s own Xbox Game Studios developers, meaning that they will release on both PC and Xbox One. Aside from a few games that will most likely be multi-platform, but chose to be shown off at the Microsoft conference since Sony decided to skip this year. Interestingly enough, the most interesting titles weren’t the ones with big budgets and advanced graphics, but the smaller, more stylish indie titles that got their own showcase on the big stage.  Games like Spiritfarer, Battletoads, The Legend of Wright, and even double-A titles like Wasteland 3 and Bleeding Edge all impressive with their vibrant aesthetics and worlds. When you include titles like Minecraft: Dungeons, The Outer Worlds, Lego Speed Champions and, yes, even Cyberpunk 2077, the games shown this year were all seriously impressive. To top it all off, the conference flowed near-perfectly. There were a few minor hiccups (which I will mention later), but overall it was a constant stream of information, games, and gorgeous trailers. This was a conference made for people who love games, not just the seven die-hard Xbox fans, so it was a treat to sit through. Plus, Keanu Reeves on stage and Phantasy Star Online 2 finally coming to the West are almost exciting enough for me to buy an Xbox One. Almost.

The Bad

This was a great conference, but there were still some problems. Although games were the sole focus, and that’s great, there was almost an information overload because of the amount of games being shown in such a short period of time. It was almost a relief when a developer or influencer or Phil Spencer himself would step up on stage and talk for a brief moment. It didn’t necessarily feel bloated, but some more breathing room between major announcements would actually have been appreciated, at least for me. And while the presentations themselves were appreciated in giving a breather, they didn’t really have much to say aside from Sarah Bond’s presentation of Xbox Game Pass. Phil Spencer gave the traditional politician speech in his blazer/graphic-tee combo, saying a whole lot of words that meant basically nothing. The Scarlett got an informational video talking about tech, but it was a whole lot of buzzwords and not a lot of substance. As someone who still believes, firmly, that technology is magic, it meant basically nothing to me. Speaking of the Scarlett...

The Future of Gaming

Our first glimpse at the Scarlett was… underwhelming, to say the least. Microsoft can say a whole lot about the specs of the system, ray-tracing, their SSD’s and other magic processing chips, but it doesn’t mean much to the average consumer. This is how Sega got away with “blast processing” back during the early 90’s, since the processor was technically better than the Super Nintendo’s, but the number itself is something consumers wouldn’t care about. So, they called it “blast processing.” To me, this Scarlett presentation was a whole lot of “blast processing.” Sure, it’s still in development, alongside Halo Infinite, but it makes sense why Sony didn’t show up with their new console if this is about what they’d have. There wasn’t even a noticeable difference between the trailer for Infinite and any other AAA game shown, although that could be because my TV isn’t 4K. In terms of the future, Microsoft played their hand this year right. Sony folded, keeping their secrets to themselves, but in doing so lost the ability to associate their brand with major titles coming soon, namely Elden Ring and Jedi: Fallen Order. That sort of recognition works wonders in the eyes of the consumer. However, Microsoft teasing the Scarlett so early may reduce the hype momentum going into Holiday 2020, while Sony and possibly even Nintendo will have console announcements as well. At the very least, I hope Microsoft keeps the name Scarlett; the name rolls off the tongue, is unique, and has an air of elegance that Microsoft could utilize in branding. The future of gaming may not look that much different, but Microsoft is at least prepared for it.
Image: Wikimedia