The Road to E3 2017: Microsoft

Here we are with the first major conference of E3. Microsoft is in a tough position here, as I'd say they're probably the company with the least amount of excitement surrounding them.  Sony has drowned their fans in first-party titles and gone on to have monster sales for their PlayStation 4 console, and the Nintendo Switch is currently lighting up the sales charts as fans enjoy Zelda and re-discover Mario Kart 8 while looking forward to titles like ARMS and Splatoon 2 for the summer.   By comparison, Microsoft's currently enduring a drought of first-party titles and enjoying a distant second in the console race.   Is all hope lost for the company? 

Probably not, as they do have the Xbox Scorpio to show off here, which all but guarantees they'll have the vast majority of the best-looking titles of E3.  Plus they've got an array of major first- and third-party titles launching this fall, so let's get into them. Microsoft's conference airs Sunday, June 11th at 2PM Pacific, 5PM Eastern.  And if you missed last week's discussion on EA's conference, you can find that right here.

Forza Motorsport 7 - One thing you can't take away from Microsoft is the fact that they have the most consistent racing franchise in consoles right now.  For sure Mario Kart 8 and Gran Turismo are more popular, but they also come out once a generation while Microsoft has, through the dual efforts of Turn 10 and Playground, managed to create an IP that gives racing fans something new to sink their teeth into each year.  This year Turn 10 Studios is up with the mothership returning for its seventh iteration.  It's going head to head with EA's Need for Speed this year, but with the extra love it'll be getting for its Scorpio version it's still sure to be the prettiest racing game of the show.

Sea of Thieves - Rare's MMO pirate game will make it's third appearance at E3 this year, this time presumably with a more consistent look to its gameplay, a potential peak into its main storyline, and hopefully a release date.  Microsoft has all but given up on single-player titles after their outings with Ryse, Sunset Overdrive, Quantum Break, and ReCore, so hopefully Sea of Thieves is an Overwatch-type success for the company, as they'll be relying on multi-player titles just like this one to carry them going forward.

Crackdown - The return of Microsoft's sandbox "superhero" action shooter, when we first saw Crackdown 3 back in 2014 I thought it was odd, considering everything I'd heard told me it hadn't been in development terribly long at all, and that it was a 2016 release at the earliest.  Since then it's been delayed a bit into this year (hopefully), but I wouldn't say that was indicative of any major problems since nearly every major AAA title has found itself getting pushed back this generation for a variety of reasons.  In Crackdown 3's case, since it's working so heavily with the cloud to make a fully destructible city, I imagine that might be slowing them up a bit. 

Still, if this video remains true and the title has both a strong offline world to explore as well as an online multiplayer experience, this should be one of the strongest titles for Xbox and Xbox Scorpio this fall.

State of Decay 2 - One of Microsoft's new game announcements from last year, State of Decay 2 was a nice little surprise.  I do find it funny that as the popularity of zombie-focused games slowly starts to wear off, Microsoft is making sure that fans of the genre still have a home, with titles like this and last year's Dead Rising 4, though.  But this announcement makes perfect sense: the original State of Decay was well-received for its strong survival elements mixed with an open world and RPG-like gameplay, and State of Decay 2 looks to be taking that to another level, with 4-player co-op and much larger stages to play in. I'm betting on this being one of a handful of fall titles alongside the games we see above, or maybe being pushed into the first quarter of next year since that's typically easier on smaller titles like this one.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game - In addition to creating the best open-world RPG of this generation in The Witcher 3, developer CDProjekt RED also created a rather addicting card-based mini-game in TW3 that gained so much popularity it ended up being spun off into its own separate game.  And Microsoft has pretty strong third-party ties to CDProjektRed, as they were the home of The Witcher 2 last gen and this gen has done the promotion at E3 for both The Witcher and the Gwent spin-off card game, so I'd bet we see this game appear again at their show.  Now by the time E3 happens, Gwent will have had its public beta potentially going for two weeks or so (it doesn't have an announced end date yet) and will likely be ready to announce a potential release date.

At the same time, one game I would tell you not to expect is Cyberpunk 2077.  The last time we heard from CDPR about this title was at an investor call where they said the game would need "much more time".  I think the earliest estimate for a release date of the game would be Fall 2018, which means they'll probably skip this year to maximize hype at MS's conference next year.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War - Another third-party title Microsoft has ties to, Shadow of Mordor was one of 2014's best titles, and Shadow of War looks to be just as good.  Fortunately the franchise managed to build its name up a bit though, because it's competing in a much more stacked year than 2014.  It already looks absolutely gorgeous as-is, since this time around the studio isn't being held back by a last-gen version, but given we'll also likely see it run on Scorpio this will be another jaw-dropper for Microsoft's conference.   Shadow of War drops in August, so I'd expect this to be one of the meatier presentations, especially since Monolith has never been shy about showing off their product.   The thing is still three months away and there's been tons of gameplay released already; don't expect that to change here.

Armored Core - This one's a bit of a long-shot, but follow me for a second.  FROM Software has already said they're mostly done with the Soulsborne games for now.  They do have multiple titles in the works however, including a dark fantasy RPG and a new Armored Core.  Now my presumption is that this game will be ready to show off at E3, and that Sony's already stuffed to the gills with games they already have to show (more on that next week).   Meanwhile Microsoft's conference is near anemic, and displaying a beloved franchise like Armored Core from a studio that's had a massive uptick in popularity thanks to its most recent titles seems like a bit of a no-brainer.  Microsoft's shown Dark Souls 3 for them too, so it's not like there's no history of third-party partnerships between the two.

Hopefully they've learned how to keep the weighty feeling Armored Core mecha have always had while also keeping combat intriguing, and offering tons of unique looking mecha with a lot of customization.  I'd love it if they could get to a point where FROM had multiple franchises they could rely on in the HD era, so I'm hoping a new Armored Core will be a hit with people.

If you think this list looks a little short, you'd be right.  No company plans on canceling games, so I'm guessing Scalebound left a massive hole in their first party schedule that they're not going to immediately be able to fill.  We know for a fact that 343 Studios won't be showing Halo 6 and they claim there's no such thing as a Halo 3 Anniversary title.  Meanwhile The Coalition just launched Gears of War last year so expect them to be silent as well.  The rest of their first-party studios will be front and center as I pointed out above, but I'd also expect a handful of third-party partnerships to fill out the show.  A partnership with Ubisoft for Assassin's Creed: Origins has been rumored, as well as Shadow of War and a "hidden" major AAA title, so look forward to that at the very least.

I'm not too concerned; every conference Microsoft has put on since 2014 has been nothing short of solid in terms of focusing heavily on games and having a good pace, so I'm confident this show won't be the one to break the trend. It's the year where they're going to show off their new Scorpio upgrade to the Xbox One, and that has to come with some major titles to grab people's attention.  Microsoft is literally rich enough to buy every single major gaming competitor they have, so it's not like they can't throw money at some third-party companies for some exclusives, timed or not.

That's all for now.  Make sure to be back when The Road to E3 continues at 12:30PM today with Bethesda. 


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