While everyone assumed Microsoft would bring the games this year for their Xbox One show, emphasizing their commitment to their core fanbase, I’m not sure many predicted that their E3 press event would quite literally be nothing but games.
It seems that Microsoft has been working to get all of their hardware announcements out of the way before E3. That includes small items like real-name ID and external storage support, but also big news like the separation of Kinect from the Xbox One and the lower $400 price to match. During the event, there was absolutely nothing mentioned about One hardware or non-gaming software like apps, and the focus was far and away on games alone. That’s what everyone always wants, right?
Perhaps, but it made for a rather strange event. For those wondering how Microsoft would handle the recently unbundled Kinect, the strategy was to ignore it completely. The peripheral was mentioned once, in passing, and that’s the only time we heard anything about it whatsoever.
Without any mention of new hardware (no Microsoft VR goggles, it seems), and no discussion of anything outside of games, that left a lot of time to fill, and Microsoft was happy to hand the stage over to its 3rd party publisher partners for what seemed like the majority of the event. Sometimes, with Ubisoft coming on stage to show extended footage from both Assassin’s Creed Unity and The Division, it was possible to forget whose event it actually was. Also in the mix were non-exclusives like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Evolve, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Division 3. Microsoft had “claim” to these titles with a small note that many would feature Xbox One exclusive or “first” content.
Microsoft’s first party exclusives weren’t bad, and by the end they were starting to pile up. I think the most impressive segment of the evening was not the glimpse of Halo 5: Guardians, but the full reveal of the Halo: Master Chief Collection, featuring 100 multiplayer maps on remastered original engines for Halo’s 1-4. Now that was a shot of nostalgia, and had the crowd going wild.
Other exclusives included Forza Horizon 2, out in time to compete with Driveclub, most likely, Fable: Legends and Sunset Overdrive, which were primary components of the ‘cartoony action’ theme of many of the games, and then the show concluded with the reveal of a new Crackdown, simply titled “Crackdown.” Probably the biggest surprise IP (depending on your enthusiasm for the return of Phantom Dust), but probably not as big as something like a new Gears of War would have been. And there was a lot of focus on games, but not really on their visuals or performance capabilities, unless you count the times presenters mentioned “1080p” and “60fps” to ridiculous cheers from the audience.
Microsoft is kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Everyone’s always telling them to just show off good games, so when they have an event that’s entirely games, it’s perhaps unfair to criticize them for not discussing hardware or entertainment software at all. But I do worry about comparisons to Sony now, who will undoubtedly be bursting with pride to show off the VR capabilities of Project Morpheus. Microsoft’s big hardware story of the year is that they cut the peripheral that was supposed to be their next big advance, and essentially acted as if it never existed at the event today.
It’s similarly strange to have a 90 minute show where at least 50 minutes are devoted to extended looks of non-platform exclusive games. I really do hate this arms race where Microsoft and Sony throw money at developers to win “exclusive DLC” or “early access” to games. Simply paying to make your competitors have a worse experience is just irritating, and both sides do it (we’ll see plenty of that with Sony and Destiny later today).
This was about as safe a conference as Microsoft could have planned, considering how poorly things went last year. If the best criticism that can be manufactured of the event is that it was too games-focused, that’s not a bad spot for them to be in. Still, even if the hardware wars were last year, VR is going to be a huge presence at E3 this year between Oculus, Sony and others. Microsoft wanted to focus entirely on games instead of any aspect of their hardware, but I can’t really say that anything they debuted was a barn-burner.
After last year, Microsoft was probably wise to go down this path. If they didn’t have any substantial gaming hardware to debut, there’s no point teasing at something purely conceptual in a games-focused event. If they already announced a Kinect-less $400 console, there’s no point announcing something like a digital-only, disc-less SKU to be released for the holiday, which would have undoubtedly attracted controversy.
So no, there’s no controversy to be found here, but in the process, nothing all that exciting either. Certainly there were interesting titles shown, but half of them had little to do with Xbox One, and many of the rest we’ve know about already. It was hardly a “must-see” event, in the end.
Press Event Metacritic Score: 78/100
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