MIcrosoft @E3 2017
I’ll be brief because at my age I only remember a few key elements of Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation.
The Big Deal was, of course, Project Scorpio, now officially called Xbox One X (as Belghast pointed out, X.B.O.X, the best Easter Egg since the naming of the 360). It’s apparently very powerful, sporting a new power management scheme invented by and named for an Xbox engineer, lots of RAMS and teraflops and other things that I think everyone expected. The release date is November 7th and it’ll retail for $499. Expect that eventually, the only versions you’ll find will be Gametop bundle-only packages well in excess of $1000.
The good news is that the presentation was wall-to-wall games. A Big Deal was that not only will you be able to play your XB1 and 360 games on the XBX, but they’re bringing Original Xbox games to the console through their backward compatibility service. The only reason anyone would care about this is for Crimson Skies. There was also the obligatory Forza announcement, which I admit looked pretty awesome, and was apprently important enough that Porsche used a video game expo to reveal a new car model for the first time.
I remember a few games shown, but I wanted to kind of blanket them by saying that there’s a real theme to the games coming to XBX: post-apocalyptic survival battle royale. That include Metro Exodus, State of Decay 2 (which looked pretty cool, and I hate zombies), Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds are just three of the titles which fell into that crevasse. These are not in my wheelhouse, so I kind of blanked during these portions. So let’s talk about the Big Deals.
First up: Minecraft 4k. This is a big deal because it reminds us that apparently people still play Minecraft. It’s also a big deal because I doubt anyone was foaming at the mouth for a 4k Minecraft.
Next, Shadow Of War. This game looked very obtuse to me; I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, but I’m not really into brawlers of this type. It looks super complex, though, as you have to take your little anti-hero and subdue orc tribes to fight for you as you bring your war to Sauron’s doorstep. Although it seemed rather anachronistic, the orc featured in the demo named Bruz the Chopper was actually really well voiced and made me laugh out loud a few times…probably not the kind of reaction one might demand from a Lord of the Rings game, but there you have it.
It wouldn’t be an Xbox reveal without an Assassin’s Creed game, set this time in Egypt. Someone needs to put a bullet in the head of this franchise. Seriously. Moving on.
I traded in my XB1 in order to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, a move which I don’t regret save for one reason and one reason only: Crackdown 3. I loved the original but didn’t take to Numero Dos. Crackdown is kind of like GTA meets Robocop: lots of wanton destruction in an open world city. C3‘s biggest selling point is the distributed computing model which will supposedly allow you to literally level the city block by block (in multiplayer). And now, Terry Crews.
And of course, there were the two biggies.
Sea of Thieves presented a really well done scripted scenario which saw the participants sailing their ship to an island where they fought through a skeleton army in search of a buried treasure, and ended in a ship-to-ship battle. During the segment, we saw underwater exploration, use of clues, maps, and the compass, cannon, sword and gun fighting, ship boarding, and some jaw-dropping ocean visuals. If SoT can extrapolate that kind of rudderless exploration in a shared multiplayer world, it’s going to blow the doors off. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.
And of course, the presentation closed out with the reveal of the teaser we had seen the day before during the EA presentation. Sandwiched in between sports games during the EA presser, we got a 30-second clip of a new BioWare game called Anthem. It looked like maybe Titanfall. Maybe Blade Runner. During the MS presentation, we saw what appears to be another Big Name studio wanting to get a piece of that open world, squad-based exploration-and-explosion pie currently occupied by Destiny and The Division. The presentation started us out in a kind of futuristic desert bazaar where we’re told that we need to go out and fix someone’s screw-up. We jump into one of three (that we could see) suits of power armor and then leap from a ledge into an absolutely massive and lush jungle world below. We don’t just fall but jetpack through ruins and foliage until we land on the ground where we meet up with another player in a much heavier mech suit. The duo proceeds to push their way through the jungle, taking out mobs which seemingly have some kind of a purpose in their presence. Eventually, the scene cuts to a different point in time where they are confronted by something called a shaper storm — complete with high-speed winds, scenery destruction, and a vague glowing epicenter that the team (now four strong) bravely fly into.
Damn. I don’t know why but I’m really into the ideas of the squad-based games these days. MMOs are great, and other multiplayer games are OK, but these kinds of games feel like the sense of teamwork is as much a reward as whatever loot and XP we gain from the operation. That Anthem was stupidly gorgeous helped a lot. Of course, as presented we were told that we were a “bastion of civilization” living in a “walled enclave” in the middle of a “ruined world” — a la Destiny, a la The Division. In that regard, no points for originality, but I don’t really care.
Of course, this was a very managed demo. My initial reaction was to run around the room screaming with tears running down my face at how awesome I thought it was, but in the afterglow, I realize that this is the “wait and see” period. It’s using the Frostbite engine so we know it’s going to be visually stunning. The wildcard is actually the fact that it’s made by BioWare. They aren’t known for their pure action games. I don’t know how many conversation wheels we’re going to get with Anthem, but the free-space on my Anthem bingo card says “people who want to be able to have sex with NPCs just because it’s a BioWare game, and complain about it if they can’t”. Most importantly: Did they dissect Destiny and The Division to see what worked, what didn’t, and what people would have rather had? Or did they just develop this knowing that these squad-based games are hot right now, and that’s all they needed to know?
A lot of the titles on offer were noted as being available for both Xbox and PC, although it wasn’t universal, or else I missed it. I know Sea of Thieves is going to be multi-spectrum, but not sure about others. If Anthem is, then I don’t think I’ll jump on the XBX. If not, I’m going to have to get back into the Xbox ecosystem. I had anticipated maybe deciding to do that — my sale of the XB1 was purely mercenary, and I bear the platform no degree of ill will — but I’d rather save my $500 for the eventual release of the low-cost, higher-performance VR headsets.