It has been tough for Microsoft the last few years, trying to dig the brand out of a hole that Don Mattrick and others dug with poor messaging before the launch of the Xbox One. There was a lack of focus on games, instead with the company focusing on media, a digital games program that was never fleshed out and cancelled days after the E3 media briefing and so many more issues.
With that, Microsoft has refocused with Phil Spenser now at the head of the Xbox division, and a core focus on games, games and, oh yeah, games. The Xbox briefing for 2016 was going to be a pivotal moment for the company. There were rumors about hardware, about a new direction for cross play and even the idea of a single purchase solution across multiple systems. Could Microsoft put all of this together and make for a solid presentation or would it be a series of huffing and puffing with no real substance?
The answer is easy – they came out swinging for the fences and in true Ron Kittle style, hit quite a few out of the stadium and into the parking lot outside Old Comisky Park.
There was no stuttering out of the box as Microsoft went right at the new hardware, introducing the new Xbox One S, a slimmed down Xbox One that would come with a new controller that supports both Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth, a console that is 40% smaller and a clean glossy white paint job. It looks elegant, yet still retaining the idea of staying stable and quiet under pressure. I was sure that Microsoft would start off with a Gears of War 4 presentation, but they went with the hardware angle and it looked great.
From that point on, it was a cavalcade of games headlined by Gears of War 4. We got to see the new weather effects that players will encounter, some slick new weapons (love that new Buzzkill weapon) and a look at an aged Marcus Fenix. The action looks really good, and it will come with a new Horde mode 3.0.
Bigger still with this was the fact that Gears of War 4 and for pretty much every other game at the conference, would be Play Anywhere enabled. Play Anywhere is a new initiative that has been dabbled with over the last year or so by Microsoft, but it essentially means that you can buy your game once, and you will own it everywhere it is available. The idea is to allow players to pick up and play wherever they can, be it on Xbox One or PC. Sure, it means using the Windows Store on Windows 10, but buying a game once and owning it everywhere is a godsend. This year alone, I have purchased Gears of War Ultimate Edition and Rise of the Tomb Raider twice, but this will be a thing of the past. This might be one of the bigger things that came out of the show outside of hardware.
Other highlights would be a new Forza Horizon 3, which will now support four player co-op, cross platform as yes, PC will be getting a full sized Forza title for the first time. No beta version or limited sized one here. And yes, it is Play Anywhere supported. There was the already leaked Dead Rising 4, which looked great with its Christmas theme, complete with fake confetti snow raining down from the ceiling of the Galen Center. It was nice to see the new vehicles and weapons, along with another mall to defile and our main man Frank West at the helm.
Coming out of hiding, we did get a new sighting of Inside, which now has a date of June 29th, 2016, and the ability to get Limbo completely free right now for Xbox One. It is a game that went dark for some time, but popped up at the show with a new trailer. Sea of Thieves also showed up, showing of the multiplayer goodness you can have online, whether it is just sitting and drinking with your friends, or battling it out on the seas with a few friends. It was fun to watch a team trying to keep their ship afloat after a cannon barrage. Sadly, things did not work out and the boat sunk. Recore showed up as well, giving us a look at some new traversal options, platform jumping and some combat with the different forms of your autonomous buddy. And if you wanted to know more about Halo Wars and Scalebound, the first one looked great but got delayed to February 2017, while the latter shows us what Platinum Games can do when they have time and money behind them.
Things did get a bit weird at one point, where Final Fantasy XV was shown off, with gameplay, for the first time on Xbox One. It wasn’t that the game looked bad, but the person playing the demo seemed to have some issues, as he kept getting clobbered by the large enemy he was attacking. Final Fantasy XV does look great and the environments and enemies are huge. Another weird moment was the demo for Tekken 7. Again, the demo looked great, but the man playing on stage was wearing a kimono I believe and just seemed to be hamming it up a bit.
With all of that past us, it was assumed that we would then get some sort of final game montage or big game reveal, but instead, we got Project Scorpio shown to us, after a little monologue by Phil Spenser about technology constantly evolving. Project Scorpio is an evolved Xbox One, completely compatible with everything on Xbox One, but has more power to give newer games a graphical bump. Phil also made mention that no Xbox One owner would be left behind. Games developed will play on all devices, whether Xbox One, Project Scorpio or PC. Play Anywhere made its point here. Phil talked up the idea that they had heard the fans and that Project Scorpio will be the most powerful console released when it comes out, packing in eight processing cores, faster RAM and the most powerful video card ever, packing in 6 teraflops of video processing power.
Microsoft put together a great show for 2016 offering up a solid slate of games, backed with new hardware and the ability to play your games anywhere with one purchase. While it may not have swayed everyone out there watching, one can see that it is a great time to be an Xbox fan from now moving forward.