X, The Scarlett Letter: A Recap of the Xbox E3 2019 Briefing

Microsoft came into this year’s E3 with a spring in its step. It had won the hearts and minds of gamers with its Xbox Game Pass and commitment to gaming, it was bringing a brand new console and its main rival Sony was nowhere to be found. Microsoft should have luxuriated in the glory and the free space; instead it had 90 minutes to reveal a console and cover 60 games.

Let’s cut straight to the biggest announcement: Project Scarlet, the next Xbox console. It will feature a custom CPU based on AMD’s Zen 2 and Radeon RDNA architecture, and will use GDDR6 RAM; this will translate into the promise of 120fps gaming, ray-tracing, variable refresh rates and 8K potential. In addition, it will include a solid-state drive resulting in faster load times.

Other than these facts, we saw very little of what Project Scarlett can offer, which either speaks to how early in the process Microsoft revealed this console, or how incremental the gains are following on from the current generation. We’ll find out more about Project Scarlett before its release in the 2020 Holiday season. It will launch with Halo Infinite, which will directly follow on from the events of Halo 5.

Last year’s major headline was Microsoft’s acquisition of a number of studios, and we saw the first games from these developers under the Xbox banner today. Obsidian Entertainment brought The Outer Worlds, the style and themes of which heavily allude to one of Obsidian’s prior games, Fallout: New Vegas; it will come out on 25 October 2019. Ninja Theory presented Bleeding Edge, a melee-focused competitive multiplayer title; the technical alpha will commence on 27 June.

The Xbox Game Studios family welcomes a new member in Psychonauts developer Double Fine Productions. In a video released separately, founder Tim Schaffer reassured fans by saying “Nothing about is going to change at all.” Psychonauts 2 will still be coming to the Playstation 4, Mac and Linux alongside Xbox and PC.

In terms of AAA Xbox Game Studios offerings, The Coalition revealed more details of Gears 5. The game will include the standard Gears multiplayer and an ability-based Horde mode. It will also introduce Escape, a 3-player co-op mode akin to Left 4 Dead. Gears 5 will have a multiplayer tech test on starting on 17 July before its release on 10 September. If you play the game in its first week, you will get a Terminator (yes, that Terminator) T-800 skin. Because why the heck not.

Meanwhile, Playground Games announced the next expansion for Forza Horizon 4: Lego Speed Champions; you will be able to drive through a Lego recreation of England on 13 June. Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2 received its first expansion, Heartland, which is available now. In addition, we saw the world premieres of Minecraft Dungeons, a Diablo-esque take on Minecraft right down to the map overlay, as well as the glorious return Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The other major theme from last year’s E3 event was the increased presence of Japanese offerings, and this year continued that trend. Announced on stage were: Dragon Ball Kakarot, Tales of Arise and Crossfire X (the console-adaptation of Asia’s most popular first person shooter). Also unveiled (to nobody’s surprise) was Elden Ring, the collaboration between FromSoftware and George R R Martin

One of the better kept secrets was the console port of the long-running MMO Phantasy Star Online 2. Originally released in Japan in 2012, the game has never seen a Western release until now. It will feature all the content from the PC version, cross play functionality and will be free to play. However, it will only be released in America, with Sega confirming that it has no plans to release PSO2 outside that region. Boo-urns.

You want trailers, you’ve got trailers. So. Many. Trailers, including: Blair Witch (by Layers of Fear developer Bloover Team), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Way to the Woods (which looks like cult-classic Tokyo Jungle but with a narrative) Spiritfarer, 12 Minutes (an interesting looking time loop thriller published by Annapurna Interactive), Wasteland 3, Dying Light 2, Borderlands 3 (including the free Borderlands 2 DLC Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary which is out now), and the annual [email protected] montage.

We got an expanded trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, which really didn’t offer too much in terms of new details. So why does this get its own paragraph? Because of Keanu goshdarn Reeves, who will play a role in the sci-fi action title. The man himself came out on stage to reveal the release date of 16 April 2020.

Xbox Game Pass has been one of the console’s most well-received offerings, and this E3 briefing doubled down on the service: Almost every game mentioned here will be coming to Game Pass. The service will expand to PC with the imaginatively-titled Xbox Game Pass for PC, which will come with a separate selection of over 100 games for US$9.99 a month. For those wanting everything, there will be the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Gold and Game Pass access on both console and PC for $15.99.

Also well received was the Xbox Elite Controller, which will see the Series 2 come out on 4 November. For $250, you will get adjustable-tension thumbsticks, updated triggers with shorter hair locks, Bluetooth/USB-C support and an internal battery that will last up to 40 hours.

We chided Sony’s 2018 E3 Showcase for its apparent lack of content; after all, it only had four games. But we got a real sense of what those games are. Sure, Microsoft brought 60 games to this year’s show, but we got only superficial glances at them. Even the Project Scarlett announcement, which arguably is the biggest news of E3, was relegated to a four minute trailer. It’s ironic that Microsoft continued its tradition of bringing a sports car onto the stage, because other than that what they brought was little more than a trailer park.