E3 Day Two Thoughts: Microsoft

 So how'd my predictions stack up to the actual conference?

Honestly, not too poorly.   I called Gears of War 4 leading the conference off, even if I felt like that was a proverbial lay-up of a prediction.  Microsoft has a very specific way of setting up their conferences and I didn't see them straying from it.  Ultimately though, while I'm much more into third-person shooters than FPS titles, Gears was never a franchise that made me salivate at the prospect of buying an Xbox console, and this wasn't enough of a sea change that it made me change my mind about the franchise so many games in (a la inFamous: Second Son and Dragon Age: Inquisition). 

Another easy prediction was Forza Horizon 3, Microsoft's way of getting an annual racer out without it being actually annual.  The game looks gorgeous, even if I'm not nearly enough of a car fanatic for this to really pique my interest. 

What did catch my eye was ReCore--the project from Keiji Inafune and Armature Studios.  I've been interested in this since it appeared at E3 last year, but things had pretty much gone silent since then.  This is the game's grand re-appearance and I'm pretty confident in saying this was my favorite part of Microsoft's show.   It just had a really creative way of introducing its characters and world, the gameplay looked engaging, the world was beautiful, and...dammit that music was just catchy.    It was also confirmed for a September release, which is actually a welcome surprise since most games so far have been getting pushed into 2017. 

Platinum Studio's Scalebound showed up, but I'm not entirely sure it was the best idea.  First off, Hideki Kamiya just looked...sad and depressed, like he didn't realize he'd signed a deal with the devil until this game started to take proper shape.   It was a multi-player co-op demo, and as someone who was super excited to see Platinum turn out a game in my favorite genre, it just looked like the most bog-standard title ever.  Boss patterns I'd seen before, attacks I'd seen before--aside from the Dante stand-in very little of it contained the typical Platinum insanity I've grown used to seeing from them.  I'm still willing to give the game another look though, as the game doesn't launch until 2017.

Okay, so if you didn't see a Gwent game coming after The Witcher 3 came out, you're either very naive or you didn't play the game.  Video games based on card games are hot right now, and Gwent is one of the most addicting mini-games I've seen in years.  It's not often I'm upset about exclusives but I'm pretty bummed this seemed to be getting some exclusivity to XBox for a bit, as it looked even more addicting than the original.

Speaking of third-party games, the indie sizzle reel snatched my attention.  I usually gloss over these, but there was a three game sequence that had me pretty hyped: MercurySteam's Raiders of the Broken Planet, IntiCreates' Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Playtonic Games' Yooka-Laylee.  As far as I know, ID@XBox doesn't have any type of exclusivity deals with any of them though, so fortunately I won't be losing out on any of them. 

Speaking of indie games, this is going to sound weird coming from me, but We Happy Few is probably the first "typical" indie-type game that's impressed me.   Not to down independent games but, more often than not they seem overly satisfied with showing off games utterly devoid of combat or worlds that are overly "precious".  That, or stuck in bygone eras, desperately trying to recapture what it felt like when they first turned on their NES/SNES/Ataris. 

We Happy Few stands out by being this trippy thing set in a world that's begging to be explored--a 1960's era England that lost the World War to Germany.  Society has seemingly collapsed and it's lead to the forced intake of "Joy" pills to make everyone forget how horrible the world is.  Curiously, "Joy" seems to not only make you not care about what's going on around you, but as evidenced in the trailer, seems to alter reality itself.   This is a game that's definitely outside my wheelhouse, but with an appealing atomic-era aethestic and what seems like a very compelling story, I'd still be interested in playing it when it comes out on Steam Early Access and Xbox late next month.

And in other third-party surprises, after hovering around for roughly two years, Tekken finally got a release window of early 2017.   Three thoughts here:

- Since The Witcher 3 came out last year, gaming's basically been packed with AAA and independent releases alike for everyone.  2016's been crazy so far and we're not even through the big months, and from the looks of things 2017 isn't going to let up.  This is a huge change from early 2014 when all we had was a bunch of "...Well, I bought the thing, so I might as well play something on it" titles, or late 2014 when everything was punt-kicked into the next year.

- Any arguments about how relevant Netherrealm Studios is should go out the window with this premiere.  Tekken 7 features a story mode that "seamlessly intertwines cutscenes and battles".  Sound familiar?  Not that I'm mad--I enjoyed the Story Mode of Injustice and even Mortal Kombat's was fun to watch, so it's kinda cool it's catching on.

- Akuma really said fuck that health bar, Heihachi's taking a Raging Demon.   At least no one can accuse Harada of taking the character into the Tekken universe and treating him like garbage.

Lastly (well, not really as there was much more than this), Sea of Thieves popped back up in a slightly awkward display that's either going to completely sell people on the game or cause people to walk away puzzled and significantly less interested.   It does feel quite piratey, though--going underwater and exploring islands for lost treasure, sailing the seas and running into other pirate clans and ending up in ship-to-ship combat...all of it seems like loads of fun.   If it wasn't first-person (or even allowed you to switch perspectives) I'd totally be into it.

So what did I rate the conference, all in all?

Grade: B+

As usual, Microsoft fed us with game after game, but their pacing was actually a little...off, this year.  They hit a spot with Minecraft that went on for way too long.  And there honestly weren't too many surprises or new games compared to last year, just updates on existing stuff.  What was new--Dead Rising and State of Decay 2--were a tad too similar to me.  I'm sure they play nothing alike but a zombie game is a zombie game to non-fans.

And then there was the fact that they announced two separate SKUs here: the Xbox One S(lim) and the Xbox Project Scorpio.  The Slim wasn't a bad idea, but the Scorpio?  If I had any mind to buy an Xbox One (and because of a few games, I do), I've pushed it out of my mind in order to wait on the Fall 2017 Scorpio.  And anyone who doesn't have way too much cash to blow has probably done the same thing.  After all, the S model is only $299 if you get the 500GB model, so you might as well start saving now for the Scorpio and get an unquestionably superior system next year, future-proofed for 4K and safe from any future "beyond generation" upgrades for at least the next two years.   

Still, it's leaps and bounds above EA in terms of presentation, and as far as being interesting to me personally it trounced Bethesda's show as well. 


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