Microsoft went into this year’s E3 with a veritable open goal. Sony’s absence from proceedings left them as the only console manufacturer to be putting on a press conference. Surely it wouldn’t be a wholly underwhelming waste of everyone’s time, right? Let’s get into the good, the bad, and the rest.
The Xbox show got to unveil (provided you hadn’t seen the leaks) a new FromSoftware game, and in collaboration with George R. R. Martin, no less! The man who didn’t screw up the end of the Game of Thrones TV show — unless you find him guilty through the absence of his book material to keep things in order — looks like he’s reined Miyazaki and the lads back into the dragony, swordy, magicy, fantasy stuff with Elden Ring. There wasn’t any gameplay to look at, but there was a bloke with a spear who looked like he did a Dark Souls-esque thrust attack, so let’s hope that it’s sticking with what FromSoftware do best. The addition of Martin surely means a more story-focused approach akin to Sekiro, and an amalgamation of Souls and Sekiro could be very interesting indeed.
The Almost Good
Probably the biggest surprise of the whole presentation was the culmination of the seven-year teaser from Sonic Team that Phantasy Star Online 2 would get an English release. It will arrive in spring 2020 in the US for Xbox One and PC, and will have cross play, which is a legitimate near-miracle after this long, and even more so on such a Western-oriented platform. What sucks (for me and my European brethren) is that it’s not slated to come to Europe yet, if at all. Sega have since tweeted, “There’s nothing to confirm right now. We understand it’s frustrating, but when we have more news to share, we will.” Do you understand, Sega? Do you?! With the region-free capabilities of the Xbox One, this won’t be that much of an issue, but still.
The Not Good Enough
Microsoft knows that PS5 is probably going to be unveiled later this year when Sony decides the time is right, so they could have smashed E3 out of the park with a dazzling showcase of their new console. While it did get announced, it was a really vague and half-baked announcement. I’m nervous about the fact that Phil Spencer said “next new console” a couple times instead of “next generation console,” so I won’t be a true believer until I see that it’s not a streaming machine or another Xbox One iteration.
We got lots of impressive statements — 4x more powerful than One X, capable of 120fps, able to output in 8K, raytracing technology, an SSD, a 40x performance increase over current gen, and a release date of holiday 2020 — but what we didn’t get is a picture of the thing, or even a proper name outside of its Project Scarlett codename. The next generation of consoles certainly sounds capable of providing beautiful, smooth, loading-free gaming, but at the moment it’s just words. Sexy-yet-empty words.
Scarlett’s launch title, Halo Infinite, got a trailer that may have looked like an Xbox One game because I was watching footage of it on my measly Xbox One X, but I wasn’t overly impressed (or even convinced) that it was indicative of what a Scarlett game will look like. Obviously there’s so much more to come, but just saying specs at people and having a big circle jerk over some numbers is not what the E3 stage should be used for.
Well, Gears POP is obviously just the worst, but Gears of War 5 didn’t exactly do anything mind-blowing here either. First, Rod Ferguson’s garish fluorescent green shoes are a disgrace. He came out in his snot green sock-protectors to show us a wholly underwhelming trailer that tried to make us care about one of the crappy new generation Gears characters, and had absolutely no gameplay. Much like Halo Infinite, you could probably close your eyes and imagine all the gameplay that Gears 5 will have in it, but it would have been nice to see something more than a modern version of the Mario 64 menu screen.
What made the Gears 5 segment even worse were the tone deaf attempts to make gamers still care about pre-orders. To be fair, they realized that a game releasing on Game Pass is likely to attract pre-orders from absolutely nobody, so they decided to lock the ‘Ultimate Edition’ behind Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions. Of course, if you get this version you can play it early, and of course you get more stuff in game. Don’t be fooled, kids. Stop pre-ordering games. Especially if that pre-order gets you a bloody in-game Terminator skin.
We Happy Few in the montage that opened the show? My, my — look at the big balls on Xbox. Rather than Men in Black that game from our collective memories, there it was, representing the platform like it wasn’t a glorious symbol of suck fuckery. I almost admired it.
I know they’re all outside already, but do any of the characters in Dragon Ball Kakarot have an inside voice? Quiet down, you damn kids.
The Slightly Better
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order had a slightly better showing here than it did during EA Play, chiefly because Xbox decided to cut a trailer full of bombastic music and action-packed moments rather than show some gameplay of a dude walking down corridors, squeezing through small gaps, and getting a robot to open doors. It’s still up in the air whether this will be up to the standards of the classic Jedi games Academy and Outcast, let alone an improvement on the Star Wars game EA cancelled last year, but Xbox did it as much of a solid as it could.
The trailer for Ori and the Will of Wisps is so damn sexy it could probably impregnate people. The release date still seems miles off (Feb 2020), but nobody can claim that serious work isn’t being put into it, as it looks absolutely astounding.
My word, State of Decay 2 is ugly. Not only did the expansion look really low-budget, but that game has clearly fallen off a cliff so much that it didn’t even get a single clap — even from the obvious plants in the audience who basically burst into rapturous applause every time Phil Spencer paused for breath.
And here comes Obsidian with the latest Fallout game! Oh, hang on…that’s not a Fallout game. Wait, that’s not a Fallout game? Well, I’ll reserve judgement until I play it, because until I do I’m not convinced, as it really looks like a Fallout game. Obsidian have got a lot of retrospective praise for Fallout: New Vegas — a game everyone seems to forget ran about as well as an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping — and Bethesda are clearly incapable of making anything decent anymore, so if Obsidian want to rip off Fallout and make The Outer Worlds the new big name in futuristic Western RPGs, then they can go right ahead.
The Not Minecraft
Minecraft: Dungeons is Minecraft without the mines or the crafting. Sounds like a good Minecraft game to me.
The Bait and Switch
Am I the only person who thought that the first minute of the Blair Witch trailer was a Silent Hill 2 remake? I’m convinced it was deliberate, and I’m also convinced that Blair Witch is a terrible movie that should only be translated to a game if it doesn’t feature a map at any point because Heather lost it.
There’s a man named Matt Booty.
As a Brit, I love the fact that Forza Horizon 4 is set in a mock version of the UK. The road signs, the roundabouts, the driving on the left, the cottages, the Edinburgh — I love it. Granted, Legoland is also in the UK, but that doesn’t mean I want to go there, and I certainly don’t want to go there and trade in a Lamborghini for a car made of plastic bricks. Is there some kind of underground Car Enthusiast Lego Club I don’t know about? Because, seriously, what was that Lego DLC all about?
If it was just my stream messing up, then I apologize, but the frame rate in the 12 Minutes trailer looked on the same level as a CCTV camera. An interesting idea took my attention and jerked it right into apathy.
What was with all the bleeping and censoring? When I saw the M rating right after the conference countdown ended, I thought we were in for some raucous good times, and instead we actually got bleeped swear words in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, and even a blacked-out middle finger in the Borderlands 3 trailer. We did get tons of violence and gore, however, sometimes immediately following a bleeped-out word. Because it’s OK to violently murder someone, just as long as we don’t say big bad naughty words.
That’s right, Spartans — 343 Industries cares about your Halo lore! Don’t believe them? Did you not see the Halo Mythos on that dev’s desk? How dare you besmirch their reverence!
If that Elite 2 controller doesn’t cost over $100, then I’ll give you over $100.
The Baba Yaga
Keanu Reeves is cool, ain’t he? Sad Keanu seemed a million miles away during his cameo in the Cyberpunk 2077 segment — probably because a room full of nerds were losing their collective minds over him. The way he was struggling to keep his concentration amongst all the audience’s fanboy hysteria was adorable.
Xbox had the chance to have its most memorable E3 ever, and it severely missed the mark. While they didn’t do anything egregiously wrong, they didn’t really wow anybody either. Project Scarlett sounds impressive, but this felt like the most underwhelming console announcement since the Wii U.
Aside from a few interesting new games, there wasn’t much razzmatazz here, and the whole thing should rightly call into question whether we really need to bother with this E3 thing anymore. Microsoft is making all the right moves at the moment — acquiring studios, developing new hardware, focusing on backwards compatibility, having excellent subscription models, and keeping things about the games — but it was all so thoroughly low key. I almost have to keep reminding myself they announced a next gen console is coming out in 18 months. That should be huge! Instead, it’s just decidedly medium-sized. Still, that dude had a really good beard.