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Analysing E3 2017: Microsoft – The Future is Tomorrow

Microsoft has made its opening arguments for Scorpio, now designated the Xbox One X. It was a solid sales pitch but one that did not immediately justify the $649 AUD price tag placed on the hardware. Microsoft is planning much further down the track than just 2017, positioning Xbox as the place multiplatform games perform their best, but as a first look at what the One X can do it was a nice showcase.

It makes sense to take a long term view, consumers are not yet equipped to take full advantage of the 4K generation and going by UHD TV prices will not be for some time. The jump in quality to 4K is undoubtedly impressive, but 4K and HDR lacks the punch HD televisions had over CRT, a technological leap that immediately made HDTVs a must have accompaniment to an Xbox 360 or PS3 purchase. It is also a lot harder to demonstrate the benefits over streams and in trailers watched at 1080p or lower resolutions.

So the question remains, who is the Xbox One X for? Is it for consumers who have not yet jumped into this generation of consoles but when they do plan to spend $650 AUD? How big is that market and is the One X enough to overcome Sony’s advantage in exclusives and player base? What about PS4 owners who have resisted the Xbox One? Will they be compelled to make another big purchase, and if they do will it just be a PS4 Pro? Will it be existing Xbox One owners looking to upgrade? As one of those, who also owns a 4K TV, I still baulk at the price and the cost/benefit ratio of the system.

Regardless of who the hardware is for, it is an impressive console. Native 4K is a big step and the One X looks to leave the PS4 Pro in the dust in terms of power. If this is a half-step to the next generation I don’t think we will be ready for that full leap for a long time, not the least because we’ll never afford the TV’s capable of showcasing it. There are still plenty of questions about the One X, from hard drive size to whether there will be a much needed interface makeover, and those considering an upgrade will want more concrete information than just ‘existing games load faster and look better’ before taking that step.

Enough about hardware, let’s talk games. Microsoft has embraced the rapid-fire games show for several years and that continued here, with an extensive look at over a dozen games and a massive 42 featured all up. Not to dismiss the standard of what was shown but compared to Sony, Microsoft clearly aims for quantity over quality, lacking those Twitter exploding “holy sh*t” debuts like God of War, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Horizon: Zero Dawn but always delivering a lineup that makes you nod and say “yeah, there’s some good games coming”.

Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of exclusive studios left in the cupboard, especially when Gears of War and Halo are in off years. Forza Motorsport 7 continued the tradition of racing games making excellent showcases for new hardware, though I can’t make the same argument for E3 as a showcase for new Porsches. With Sea of Thieves I am firmly in the “just give it to me” stage, it looks great and the potential for user created storytelling has me excited, I was really hoping for a 2017 release.

Crackdown 3 didn’t demo as well as it could have, much like Scalebound last year. Hopefully the fate of Crackdown 3 is a little more positive, and the action looks solid. It doesn’t look like a game that can hold a console launch on its shoulders. A new Ori game is a welcome surprise but might be a ways off considering it was only a cinematic trailer.

Third party support did a lot of the heavy lifting for the One X and handled that load with aplomb. The message is clear that Xbox wants to be the place to play multiplatform games, and while the jury will be out on that until we see the difference between One X performance and the PS4 Pro, attaching some big third party names to the One X is a good start.

EA has always been a firm Microsoft partner thanks to EA Access, giving Xbox the big Anthem reveal that might have Bungie just a little nervous. Anthem proved the rumours true; a Bioware made Destiny that looked amazing and hopefully does interesting things with combat, taking advantage of the mobility flight provides. If Bioware can weave the strong world building and narrative it is known for into the game this could be special.

Metro: Exodus was a true “4K seller”, featuring dense environments full of unmatched detail. I shudder at the thought of how many man hours it would take to detail the derelict village down to vines overhanging doorways and dandelions in the grass. Shadow of War wasn’t as impressive a graphical showcase but looks to expand on the best parts of Shadow of Mordor and adding an Orc management simulation, and a bit of personality helps too.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins continues Ubisoft’s movement towards one true game, adding elements of Ghost Recon Wildlands and Far Cry to the well worn Assassin’s Creed formula. After the dense world of Exodus the landscapes looked a touch spartan but nonetheless beautiful. Ancient Egypt is a ripe setting for an Assassin’s Creed game, I hope Ubisoft has made the most of the extra year in development. Ubisoft backing Microsoft is a good sign, in recent years tentpole Ubisoft releases have been held back for its own show or debuted at the Sony conference.

One part of the show that no longer works for me is the indie montage, a brief flash of games that usually aren’t visual showpieces. Perhaps it is indie fatigue but the prospect of more builders and roguelikes doesn’t stir much excitement in me. This year more than ever it felt like a way to pad the number of games shown that Phil Spencer could quote in his intro. At least Cuphead and Tacoma got release dates, and imminent ones. No indie game should be appearing at its third E3 without a firm release date in place.

Some quick hits on the remaining games shown. Shoutcasting is a horrible way to showcase a game but despite that I’m intrigued by The Darwin Project and particularly how it can integrate streaming into the game without turning it into a popularity contest. Where EA integrated the streamers into its show, Microsoft focused on what streaming can offer games in terms of audience interactivity. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds has already done the hard work of audience building and becoming a streaming favourite, it is a solid get for timed console exclusivity.

Having just completed and loved Life is Strange it is nice to know the prequel is on its way so soon. The Last Night looked amazing but I have no idea what it actually is, and I don’t care at all about Dragonball but FighterZ looked really, really nice. Finally, original Xbox backwards compatibility was announced. The debate rages on about how much gamers actually use backwards compatibility, but despite what Sony went around saying last week I personally love the feature and have high hopes for this. The perfect form would be a fully emulated original Xbox Live, but that may prove too grand a scope. I’ll settle for being able to play Links 2004, Rallisport Challenge 2 and Project Gotham Racing 2 again, though if the feature relies on the existing Xbox 360 backwards compatibility then only two of those will be possible. At least Crimson Skies is confirmed.

Much like a sports team rebuilding its roster from the ground up, Microsoft is in the early stages of a five year plan to make up lost ground on the competition. From what was shown I am happy to “trust the process” but those looking for immediate wins in the form of imminent barnburning exclusives and announcements with wow factor will be disappointed. With no mention of virtual or mixed reality, no “play it now” announcement and freebies only for those watching on Mixer, Microsoft is buying into the long game completely. That is a good move for its future, but for gamers it has left more questions than answers.

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About the author

Stuart Gollan

From Amiga to Xbox One, Doom to Destiny, Megazone to Stevivor, I've been gaming through it all and have the (mental) scars to prove it. I love local multiplayer, collecting ridiculous Dreamcast peripherals, and Rocket League.