By Tashaun “JerzeeBalla” Brown | @JerzeeBalla | 9:50 PM EST, Tues. July 16, 2019
Every year, gamers across the globe celebrate a holiday in June known as Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3. It’s a glorious occasion that is full of wonder, excitement, disappointment and surprises. This year’s #E32019 received a huge blow when Sony announced that they wouldn’t be attending. That news pushed all the attention squarely towards Microsoft. Of course, there were other companies with products to show off, but Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are the companies we are always most interested in.
With next year’s holiday season increasingly looking like the jump-off point for the next gaming generation, Microsoft had a rare opportunity to present the future of Xbox to the gaming world without having to deal with Sony trying to upstage them. How successful they were at taking advantage depends on who you ask. In my opinion, they squandered a perfect opportunity to set themselves up for the next generation. Let’s examine the highs and lows of the conference (of course, all opinions stated here are mine and mine alone.)
Xbox started off their press conference with The Outer Worlds, which was a very solid choice to open the conference with. The game itself felt like Bioshock and Mass Effect had a lovechild, which sounds awesome in theory. Next up, we got a glimpse of Ninja Theory’s first Xbox exclusive project. Devil May Cry 2? Nope. Heavenly Sword 2? Nuh uh. Anything single-player with a focus on narrative and action, since it’s their calling card? Not at all. Instead, we got Bleeding Edge, a third person, melee-focused action game centered on team combat. It sounded like Overwatch without the guns to me. Meh. It may prove to be a great game, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when Microsoft acquired them. Ori and the Will of the Wisps graced the screen next and it looked simply fantastic. The first game was amazing, and I’m sure this one will be too. After an appearance from Minecraft Dungeons, which was super cute and looked fun, Phil Spencer, executive vice-president of gaming at Microsoft, took the stage to let the audience know that gamers would be seeing 60 new games for Xbox and Windows, 14 of which were first-party. He also promised news regarding Xbox’s next-generation console. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was next in line and it looked kind of cool (I don’t think it’s for me though). Blair Witch followed, and honestly, I can’t even imagine how a Blair Witch game would play, but it exists and I’m slightly interested.
I was ready to write the rest of the conference off at this point because I’ve seen enough of them to know exactly how things would play out. Gears, Halo, Forza, controller stuff, new console. But then, Cyberpunk 2077 graced my screen…and boy oh boy, developer CD Projekt Red sure knew how to excite their fan base. Not only did it look awesome, but we found out that actor KEANU FREAKING REEVES IS ON BOARD AHHHHHH…..I’m sorry. Keanu came out on stage to then introduce a proper trailer which also looked nuts. Cyberpunk was definitely the high point of the conference in my opinion. This first quarter of the conference was pretty good! The momentum was definitely there, but afterward, it started to reverse.
Battletoads was a Nintendo gem, but this new version missed the mark in my eyes. Spiritfarer and The Legend of Wright both have really nice art styles, but I’m not quite sure how fun they will be based on what I saw. Cue ID@Xbox montage, which was mostly forgettable, followed by an Xbox Game Pass announcement that was a pretty good value. Microsoft Flight Simulator got a good crowd reaction, but I, personally, couldn’t care less. Ditto for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. At this point, I was really losing interest, but I felt like the best was yet to come. Hopefully.
Microsoft started to bring their studios out at this point to let us know what they were up to. Double Fine showed off Psychonauts 2 after Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, led with a joke that in retrospect might not have been one. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga promised a re-imagining of all the old games and spans all nine movies. Dragon Ball Action RPG was renamed to Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. As I dozed off, I heard a couple talking. A warning. “Don’t open the door! Help me! Murderer.” I was on the edge of my seat. The rest of the trailer for 12 Minutes was awesome, fresh and intriguing. It was my favorite part of the presentation besides Keanu. This second quarter of the conference was pretty lackluster in my opinion. Besides 12 Minutes, nothing moved me for a second. Let’s examine the third quarter, shall we?
Naturally, you want to follow that exciting trailer with deer gameplay from Way To The Woods. In an even better moment of transitioning, Microsoft followed that with a very low-key Gears 5 trailer. No gameplay was shown, just faces. A new mode was discussed, but not showing gameplay footage for a game three months out was a huge mistake. I’m aware they showed footage on Mixer later, but the conference had the most eyes on it and the developers should have shown it then! The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 became the focus, followed by Dying Light 2, which looked pretty good because I really enjoyed the first one. The upcoming Lego Forza expansion looked pretty fun for fans of the series. Gears POP had a humorous trailer that showed the game may have more personality than the average mobile game. A State of Decay 2 DLC expansion was shown off and it looked pretty solid, Phantasy Star Online 2 was announced to finally be coming stateside after all these years and a Crossfire X cinematic trailer bought this quarter of the show to a close. Surely the end of the conference would be amazing right? We hadn’t seen Halo yet, and the new console news was on the way as well.
Tales of Arise was up next and the cinematic trailer looked pretty good, as there was some gameplay mixed in as well. Borderlands 3 then took the spotlight in an action-packed trailer with a lot going on. Gearbox also announced a free DLC which was the last piece for Borderlands 2 that will connect it with its sequel. The long-rumored collaboration between author George R.R. Martin and Hidetaka Miyazaki, president of FromSoftware, was finally confirmed with the unveiling of Elden Ring, and Spencer made his way back to the stage to close things out.
First up for the finale? Project xCloud, which is Xbox’s “vision for game-streaming technology that will complement our console hardware and give gamers more choices in how and where they play.” The crowd looked like they didn’t seemed to care at first, but they perked up upon hearing some more details. And FINALLY, the announcement came of getting a new Xbox console. Here are some bullet points to sum up the info given by Spencer:
- More immersion, exploration, and detail is a goal
- Reducing load times is a huge priority
- Custom processor from AMD (Zen 2 and Navi tech) + GDDR6 RAM combo is said to be 4x more powerful than the Xbox One X
- 8K capable, 120 fps capable
- Real-time, hardware accelerated ray tracing
- New gen SSD used as virtual RAM, 40x more efficient than the current gen
The console, code-named “Project Scarlett,” seemed to be a powerhouse. The problem for me wasn’t how this was all presented. I was fine with that. My problem is that all of this info sounds exactly like the info we have about the PlayStation 5. The PS5 information mentioned ray tracing, the SSD, 8k capability, and a Zen 2 CPU from AMD. It sounded strikingly similar to me. Again, Sony was not here at all, and this was the perfect time for Xbox to set itself apart! I didn’t feel like that happened. Halo Infinite was then announced as a launch title for “Project Scarlett” and we were treated to a cinematic trailer for it. The trailer on its own was fine, but it continued what I feel was a theme for the whole conference. There was a lot to digest, but nothing to really see. And for E3, if nothing else, is about what we see. Microsoft then closed the show with the obligatory montage, as per usual.
I know my tone throughout this may be a bit harsh, but I truly hoped Microsoft would have taken this opportunity and ran with it. The future of the brand didn’t really take a hit here, but I don’t feel like it got a notable boost either. Microsoft seems to be in the exact same position they were before E3 and considering Sony didn’t even show up, I have to consider that a missed opportunity. I just wanted a single reason to be more excited about the future of Xbox and I didn’t really get it. I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.
Overall, I gave the conference a C+. I expect next year will be better with the “Project Scarlett” launch lineup on full display as well as pricing information and solid release date. Here’s hoping that Xbox truly “Jumps In.”
Tashaun “JerzeeBalla” Brown is a content creator born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey. He is a lifelong gamer and avid sports fan, as well as a loving father raising the next generation of gamers. You can find him streaming at twitch.tv/ChronoJerz.