The Xbox One has arguably provided the better experience in recent years. Its Backwards Compatibility program has given new life to old games, and the Xbox Game Pass has given users a healthy library of legacy titles. However, the console is behind in one regard: New games. In order to furnish its seemingly lacking game library, Microsoft is looking outward, including to places we wouldn’t normally expect.
The common criticism was that Microsoft isn’t producing first party games to the same extent that Sony is. To address this, Xbox lead Phil Spencer dedicated three or so minutes to announcing the company’s recent studio acquisitions: Undead Labs (State of Decay), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few) and the newly-formed The Initiative, headed by Crystal Dynamics’ Darrell Gallagher.
Speaking of Playground Games, it’s 2018 which means it’s Horizon’s turn to sit behind the Forza driver’s seat. Forza Horizon 4 will be set in an idyllic version of Historic Britain, right down to dynamically changing seasons. It will also introduce a “shared open world”, meaning your game will be populated be real players; no word on whether collision detection will be present. Forza Horizon 4 will come out on 22 October 2018.
We have to talk about the Gears block. I mean that literally because the first piece of Gears (not Gears of War, just Gears) footage we saw was of a Funko Pop-ed Marcus Fenix. Yes, Funko Pop, the herpes of pop culture merchandise, is being immortalised in a video game with Gears Pop. May God have mercy on our souls. We also got introduced to Gears Tactics, a very XCOM-looking take on the Gears universe, as well as Gears 5, which will follow Kate from the last game as she deals with the Locust thread coming from within her. These will all come out in 2019.
From Microsoft’s other first party developers and those that have exclusive deals for the Xbox, we also saw footage for Halo Infinite (There is always a lighthouse, there’s always a Chief, there’s always a city), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, DLC for Cuphead and Sea of Thieves, Session (because EA isn’t going to make a new Skate game), Tunic, and Battletoads — yes, a brand new Battletoads game in 2019 with “Broad non-specific feature declarations”
As important as first party games are, third party games are the bread and butter of a console, and Microsoft was eager to show off a few on its stage. We got a look at The Division 2 (now set in Washington but still featuring Ubisoft’s patented fake multiplayer banter), Metro Exodus (which is coming out 22 February 2019 alongside literally every other video game) and the usual array of ID@Xbox titles (literally 22 games are featured in this montage)
We also got a look at Dying Light 2, courtesy of famed game writer Chris Avellone, who will be involved in this project. Dying Light 2 will introduce factions and moral choices to the parkour-based zombie shooter. In the example given, the player is given a choice to either eliminate water smugglers or make a deal with them; either choice will have material consequences on the world and gameplay.
As successful as the Xbox 360 was, the console gained almost zero traction in Japan, which makes the presence of so many Japanese games at Microsoft’s show all the more surprising. We got trailers for Nier Automata: Become As Gods Edition and an Xbox One port of Tales of Vesperia. In terms of debuts, Microsoft showed off Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the new game by From Software set in Ancient Japan (everything has come full circle); and Jump Force, a crossover fighter which will include characters from Naruto, One Piece, Death Note and Dragon Ball Z.
Microsoft even brought Hideaki Itsuno onto the stage to announce Devil May Cry 5, a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 (everyone seems to have disregarded DmC: Devil May Cry) which will bring back both Nero and Dante, as well as Itsuno as game director. Devil May Five will come out Autumn 2019.
The strongest Eastern showing, though, was the growing relationship between Microsoft and the Japanese publisher Square Enix. The company used Microsoft’s stage to give us a first look at Shadow of the Tomb Raider (out 14 September 2018) and The Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit (Dontnod’s next title set in the Life is Strange universe available 26 June). Most surprisingly, Kingdom Hearts III will be coming to the Xbox One, featuring Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and a healthy helping of the Sora angst that has kept that franchise going for 15-plus years.
The show ended with our first look at Cyberpunk 2077, the CD Projekt Red role-playing game first announced five years ago. In a subliminal flash, the game was described as “an alternative version of the future where America is in pieces, megacorporations control all aspects of civilised life, and gangs rule the rest.” CD Projekt Red was quick to reassure players that despite the flashy trailer, the game is a “true single player, story-driven RPG” and that it will have no microtransactions. No release date was announced.
With this year’s E3 briefing, Microsoft seems to at least be making gestures towards addressing the apparent dearth of titles for the Xbox One. The studio acquisitions will at least give it some breathing room, but it’s the push into Japan which is the most interesting move. These briefings have always promised games without necessarily following through; the hope is that 2018 is the year this finally changes.