E3 2018 Post-Show Analysis: Microsoft

by Sage Ashford

The recaps continue with a look into Microsoft’s show. Following up EA’s disappointing Saturday appearance, Microsoft had a low bar to clear to beat them…but a high bar to clear when it came to impressing longtime fans of Microsoft and console gaming in general. So how’d they do?
Since Microsoft showed approximately fifty titles, we’ll go over this in broad strokes–but if you want to see the entire thing in its 98 minute glory, hit the video below.

Let’s get the biggest news out of the way: after years of people complaining that Microsoft doesn’t have enough first-party games for their core audience, Phil Spencer and Microsoft have finally put that to bed by acquiring four existing studios and creating one more for a total of five (!) new first party studios.   These include Ninja Theory (responsible for Hellblade and the DMC reboot), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few), Undead Labs (State of Decay series), and The Initiative as their newly built studio.   This brings their total number of first party studios up to an impressive 12.
Now for what it’s worth most of these companies were barely multi-platform to begin with–Playground Games had been making Forza for years, and if anything this only confirms their upcoming open world game to be the Microsoft IP Fable–but it was still a much-needed step.   People have said Microsoft is placing themselves in the position to make a powerful comeback next gen, and it really seems like that’s the case.

Microsoft also made a pretty impressive showing with their first party games in general.  They confirmed no less than three Gears of War titles, but they’ve made the necessary changes to make those titles stand out: Gears POP! is a mobile game, Gears Tactics is exactly as the name would suggest, and Gears 5 switches the main character to Kait, one of the supporting characters who’s finally taking the big stage.
They opened the show with a teaser for Halo: Infinite, a game built on their new SlipSpace Engine, but…these are the kind of teases gamers always hate.  We know Halo: Infinite is a follow up to 343’s Halo 5, but that’s all we know and neither the developer or the publisher seems to want to be forthcoming with any other information.  It’s hard to get excited off just a teaser, even if it is meant to be in-engine–most AAA games look gorgeous, that’s not an accomplishment it’s become a necessity.  Speaking of beautiful AAA titles Ori and the Will of the Wisps is looking like exactly the treat you’d expect it to be, and though the showing wasn’t as jaw-dropping or as tragically beautiful as last year, knowing it’s coming out in 2019 is still a bonus.

What was much more impressive though were the company’s third party appearances.  Microsoft had some of the most hotly anticipated third party games from the very start, beginning with FromSoftware’s new title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.  A purely action based game, From’s stripped out the RPG mechanics they’ve become popular for in order to give us a pure, old school action title fans will doubtless be excited for anyway when it launches.

The popular zombie game Dying Light 2 is buoying it’s excellent gameplay with a strong story, courtesy of some of The Witcher writers plus Chris Avellone.  While the original game’s story was about as boilerplate as it gets, this time around things look much more engrossing.  They pulled the “every action has a reaction” card pretty hard, but given some of the writers involved there’s a good chance they mean it.  Much like samurai games, zombie titles are making a big resurgence here with a lot of quality titles.

The biggest surprise of the show easily had to be Capcom’s Devil May Cry series re-debuting here.  Known as a “Playstation franchise” for the majority of its existence, DMC4 being multi-platform was arguably one of the first times we started to realize just how expensive it was to develop HD games, as every franchise needed all the sales they could get on every platform they could publish their games.   And despite the “mainline” franchise having vanished for nearly a decade, Capcom seems pretty dedicated to maintaining this IP’s identity as multiplatform going forward.
I do wonder what appeal it’ll have to a wider audience though.  These days, your game tends to have at least one (possibly all) of three things: multiplayer, progression systems, an open world.   DMC tends to lack all of those aside from the lightest of progression, but when even Assassin’s Creed has become a BioWare RPG lately, is that enough?  I’m betting they’ll stick to the basics though, as that’s Capcom’s MO…and hopefully the game sells well because it stayed true to itself.
Also, yes.  The song is very catchy, that’s why it’s #1 on the charts in the UK right now.

By far the biggest game at this (or any, for that matter) show was CDProjekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077.  Hotly anticipated for the last five years, CDPR was finally ready to let this game make an appearance at their conference, and it looks…pretty freaking sweet, actually.   CDPR did an excellent job at creating a believable, fleshed out medieval fantasy world, and with Cyberpunk they look to be creating exactly an equally fleshed out world, only this time with floating cars, cybernetic limbs, and a world ruled by plutocrats and a tiny number of corporations.
I’ll go ahead and give the spoiler here: E3 peaked early to me with Microsoft’s presentation.  Though Sony, Nintendo, and Square all had the potential to top even this show…none of them did.  All of them fell prey to one problem or another, and instead of coming out guns blazing wound up making some fatal error that led to them losing.  But Microsoft went into this knowing they had to do something to fight back against the monster success that is the Switch and Sony’s continued excellent performance as the market leader.  They knew that, and performed up to expectations.
They’ve made moves positioning them to be much stronger for next-gen, acquired some key third party partnerships, and in general kept excellent pacing for their show.  No game was on stage for too long, none of the people on stage were particularly awkward.  Microsoft has always had strong performances dating back to 2014 or so in my opinion, just never enough to secure them the W.  Until now.
Grade: A

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