Making The Grade – Microsoft’s 2016 E3 Press Conference Review

The press conference brought to us by Microsoft at E3 2016 this year was essentially par for the course – nothing too flashy, lots of chit chat, and a few nice pieces. In short, the overall tone of Microsoft’s conference was as mundane as the rest of the show (Sony not withstanding).

Overall, Microsoft’s Press Conference didn’t have a cohesive topic-set. The company needed to let the games speak for themselves, rather than tell us how they are revolutionizing gaming. I was practically nodding off at different moments, with way too much filler material from way too many speakers. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer, however, did not detract from the experience – he was a bright spot amidst a rather forgettable hour and a half. Please note, this is all coming from an Xbox “fanboy.” Spencer is the ideal leader for a gaming/electronics organization, representing the perfect balance between style, attitude, and professionalism.

The long rumored Xbox One Slim became official, with the “Xbox One S” coming to retailers this August for $300. This is a gorgeous rendition of the existing system, being cut down by approximately 40%. Microsoft showed off the white glossy version of the console, which makes it the best looking system on the market. Seeing that I have yet to hear of any “red ring” type issues this generation, improving on the Xbox One is not a necessity, but is still a welcomed addition. If you already own an Xbox One, I wouldn’t recommend the upgrade (unless it will fit better in your entertainment system). If you were waiting for a jump-on point, this is your moment.

In addition, Microsoft ended the conference with an odd-yet-intriguing montage of developers, publishers, and Microsoft employees touting a brand new Xbox, entitled “Scorpio.” This is supposedly the most powerful console ever and is not meant to represent a new generation of systems, but rather an upgrade over existing hardware like the X1 & the Playstation 4. In case you didn’t notice, “Teraflops” was the magic word. The system will have 6 Teraflops and produce 4K gaming output. Seriously, you could have played a drinking game and been tanked by the end of the 2-3 minute video. I’m not sure if I am comfortable with the impending Scorpio & “PS4.5,” as those systems will reportedly debut just 4 years after the debut of the X1/PS4. Are we cutting this generation short or are we getting new, powerful systems ever few years? I’m not going to be able to keep up with purchasing a new system this often, should that be the case. It’s a disturbing trend in my opinion, but maybe that isn’t fair without knowing all of the details. My fear is we will get games that will play on the Xbox “Scorpio,” but be trimmed down for the Xbox One (Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 dropped the single player campaign entirely for the Xbox 360/PS3 version, while the X1/PS4 version received the true $60 treatment, for example).

In one more bit of hardware-related news, Microsoft announced customized controllers for the Xbox One. There are approximately 8 million different combinations, as you can choose the color for each thumbstick, the main body’s color, and more. This seems like a small announcement, but it ended up being one of my favorite things about E3 this year. I want my orange controller!

In terms of games, Microsoft’s lineup wasn’t as jampacked as in recent years, possibly forcing the various speakers to have to draw out their speeches. Sony’s conference let the games talk and had gamers brimming with excitement, while Microsoft’s conference featured speakers telling us why we should be excited. One thing I respect regarding the conference is that we saw a followup on a lot of announcements from last year’s E3. It’s disappointing not to get those big surprises, but still a good thing to see progress on those previously announced games.

We saw a good chunk of time dedicated to Gears of War 4, Xbox’s spotlight game of the Fall release window. I can’t recall a Fall in recent memory wherein Microsoft didn’t release a core game in November, (Gears 4 comes out this October). The game looks fun, whether it was the gameplay sequence or trailer we witnessed (with a grizzled Marcus Fenix!). I’m not sure Gears has the legs to make this a mega Fall season for Microsoft, but it still figures to be in the end-of-year conversation come award season.

Sea of Thieves might have been the most critically acclaimed portion of E3 for Xbox fans, showing off some more gameplay and receiving mostly positive reports. This could be an ace-in-the-hole for Microsoft. Scalebound gameplay was shown, but wasn’t overly exciting. Since its reveal last year, it really gives me the Sunset Overdrive vibe. Sunset was one of my favorite games early on in the Xbox One’s life, so, naturally, this is exciting for me. In other words, it appears to have a good mix of goofy humor, color spectrum, & action. Recore was sparsely shown in comparison to other titles at the conference and hence, it was surprising to hear that it is set to release this August. Recore has been high on my anticipated titles list since its trailer at E3 2015, but we have seen very little of the game. On the other hand, in the promotion period leading up to most games’ releases, we generally see too much information. There are no surprises with the access we have to information these days. A little intrigue could go a long way.

We Happy Few is a very exciting title to me, with a blend of BioShock’s creep level and Dishonored’s art style. We were able to see close to 5 minutes of gameplay. I believe this will be a big seller for the company, especially if the hype train continues for the game.

Final Fantasy XV received a small slice of time, but was slightly underwhelming thanks to its relatively little hype. A nice surprise was hearing that Dead Rising 4 is coming this Holiday season. Not only that, but we are getting the return of the popular Frank West to the series. Dead Rising 3 was one of my favorite launch games, showing off the new-gen power of the Xbox One as 400 zombies flowed across my screen at once.

Forza Horizon 3 was shown off, looking as good as any game we’ve ever seen. That isn’t surprising. What was surprising was the odd demo that is received, which didn’t do a ton to bolster hype for the game outside of the usual excitement the series receives. We also saw brief snippets of games such as Halo Wars 2, State of Decay 2, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, and Tekken 7. Sadly, there was nothing on Hololens, Microsoft’s stab at augmented reality.

OVERALL GRADE

C

Microsoft’s conference needed a better flow. We didn’t really learn much outside of a few small, niche announcements, with the focus centering around next year’s E3 with the Scorpio. Microsoft needs to do better if it is to cut down Sony’s sales lead in terms of consoles this generation. Perhaps it is hitting the reset button with Scorpio.

+ Xbox One Custom Controllers

+ Xbox One S

+ We Happy Few

– Far too much dialogue

– More of a precursor to next year, rather than this Fall.

Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s Managing Editor. He just played through Batman: Arkham Origins for the second time and is impatiently awaiting Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

 

 

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