Microsoft @ E3 2016 Preview & Predictions

Did I say every day this week? I meant every day except Monday. Maybe I should have been clearer but I also had totally forgotten that Square Enix wasn’t running a press conference this year when I started and I needed to give this week some balance.

But we’re back today with the proverbial “bro” of the console wars in Xbox, with Microsoft’s press conference on Monday morning.

Xbox E3 Media Briefing in Years Past

Due to the small number of first party studios on Microsoft’s payroll, historically these Xbox conferences have put much more focus on 3rd party software on Xbox consoles than exclusives– with the exception of series like Halo and Gears of War of course.

In the past few years since the Xbox One’s reveal, though, there’s been a clear shift in trying to build a good exclusive lineup to show off at these press conferences, especially with Phil Spencer at the helm.

In 2013, we saw games like Sunset Overdrive and Dead Rising 3, among other games, and Microsoft went out of its way to show off even niche exclusives like D4 and Crimson Dragon. 2014 gave us Rise of the Tomb Raider, Scalebound, Crackdown, and even a reboot of Phantom Dust (which is currently, unfortunately, in development hell).

Last year the trend continued, with exclusive titles being announced such as Re:Core, Gigantic, Rare Replay, Sea of Thieves, and Ion. Of course Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4 bookended the conference, but still, the trend towards creating an iconic library of exclusive titles is commendable, especially after Phil Spencer pointed to Nintendo as the example of where Xbox would like to be when it comes to their first party offerings.

The unfortunate downside to this push is the timeline of production. While every year, Microsoft announces new exclusive titles for Xbox, often they are several years out of release, meaning that there isn’t much gameplay to show. Instead, the trend of the last few years has been to show a CG trailer announcing the game without explaining how the game functions in any reasonable way. In the last few years, the games guilty of showing include Sunset Overdrive, Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Phantom Dust, Scalebound, Crackdown, Re:Core, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and Gigantic. While the number of games like this toned down last year, it would be a safe bet to assume that they’ll continue as long as they draw interest (mainly through the names they put up on screen alongside them).

Alongside all this, a big part of Microsoft’s pressers recently have been sections entirely devoted to their ID@Xbox lineup of independent games coming to or exclusive to their console. Last year, games showed off included Tacoma, Beyond Eyes, Ashen, and the endearingly animated Cuphead.

Add in the yearly Forza game, Halo at-least-mention, and splattering of third party games in Fallout 4, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and Dark Souls III, and the Xbox press conference was a pretty well rounded affair.

And it would have been just that, but what really let Microsoft’s presser this past year stand out was the announcement of Xbox One backwards compatibility with select 360 titles and an awe-inducing demo of Microsoft HoloLens with Microsoft.

And while I expect the level of presser from Microsoft to come back down to just a “well executed, well rounded affair,” it’s good to keep in mind just what this company can do if they put their mind to it.

Known & Predicted Microsoft Games

Announced in the last two years at both E3 and Gamescon, there are four games that we could see at this year’s E3 from Microsoft’s first party studios and IP. The obvious ones will likely be Rare’s Sea of Thieves, the Crackdown reboot, and Gears of War 4.

More interestingly will be whether Halo Wars 2, announced at Gamescon last year, will see time on the E3 stage. As a strategy game, it doesn’t seem to be the style of game that will really generate much hype so there’s a chance we don’t see it outside of a game montage. However, we’re looking at a gap year for Halo franchise releases, with a year off from Halo 3’s likely anniversary remake and at least another year until the likely 2018 Halo 6 release date. 2013 saw a similar situation that Microsoft filled with a vexing cg concept teaser trailer, which they could certainly do again, but filling that space in the show with an actual game like Halo Wars 2 would likely be much more fitting.

The other known game from Microsoft’s own studios is Forza Motorsports 6 Apex, a free-to-play iteration of the main series that is currently in beta. Apex throws a wrench in what would otherwise be an easy prediction. For the last few years Forza games have released every year switching between Forza Motorsports and Forza Horizon, with 2 year development cycles for each. But with Apex, it’s possible that a possible Forza Horizon 3 takes an extra year before release. Or perhaps Microsoft just pushes them both? It could go either way.

The only other game that seems to be on Microsoft’s docket is a strategy game from Decisive Games, who early last year were hiring for a “Beloved Strategy Franchise.” However, such a game would likely be PC-only, and as this is the Xbox Media Briefing, such a reveal likely wouldn’t be on this stage.

Anything else that comes out from Microsoft themselves would likely be VR-focused, expanding on what has already been demonstrated by their HoloLens technology.

Known Exclusive 3rd Party Titles

Over the last three years, Microsoft has stacked up quite a number of big games that were touted at the time but have still yet to be released on their console. While there are a few that stand out as big AAA titles, most are indie titles announced during the ID@Xbox section of their pressers. Such titles include The Solus Project, TACOMA, Ion, The Long Dark, Pit People, Space Engineers, Ashen, and most significantly, Cuphead and Below.

Outside of that, there are a few games of small significance, such as Gigantic and Cities: Skylines, and those games that appear most likely to turn heads in Platinum Games’s Scalebound, and Armature Studios project with Keiji Inafune, Re:Core.

While it is very likely that the last two titles will appear during the press conference, based on the last three years, many of the smaller titles likely will get held off for Gamescon in Germany, or will be replaced for other announcements and newer acquisitons to the ID@Xbox brand.

Known Mulitplatform Games

The hardest part of Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences is determining which of the many multiplatform games that they’ll find a spot for in their press conferences.

With EA moving to Sundays, it becomes even harder, as it had usually been a safe bet to say that they would never make any huge announcement on their stage if they could save the reveal for their own later in the day– with a few minor exceptions, such as Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 last year.

When it comes down to it, the two things most likely to draw a game to Microsoft or Sony’s stage is either to reveal the game for the first time, or talk about exclusive content for that platform, specifically. A good example is Fallout 4 at last year’s Xbox Media Briefing.

With EA not having to worry about giving reveals to other press conferences, many of their non-sports-related titles, such as Mass Effect: Andromeda, Battlefield 1, and the predicted Titanfall 2 could all very well appear– especially considering the history all three franchises have had on Xbox consoles. Unless Sony throws money at the wall, any of the three has good likeliness to appear.

The list from Ubisoft is bout the same size with South Park: The Fractured but Whole, For Honor and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but any unannounced games shown at a platform-maker’s presser will likely go to Sony’s press conference– after Ubisoft has announced the games at their’s.

ID@Xbox could have quite a number of games here as well. While they won’t be given as much showtime as exclusives, Mighty No. 9, Yooka-Laylee, Adrift, Axiom Verge, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night could all show up in an ID@Xbox indie montage.

The other company with a handful of multiplatform titles is Square Enix, who won’t be having a press conference this year. Those titles include Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Final Fantasy XV, and Kingdom Hearts III. The prior is the most likely to appear at the show, but Squeenix has such close ties with Sony that there’s little chance any actually appear at Microsoft’s unless they shell out the big money. That being said, it isn’t out of the question. A few years ago, Microsoft opened their show with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain– a franchise and company with much better and longer ties with Sony than Microsoft that was releasing for the first time on Xbox.

The remaining games to keep an eye out for would be Dead Island 2, which premiered a few years ago on Sony’s stage, Dishonored 2, which will likely be showcased the day before on Bethesda’s stage, Mafia 3, which has been getting quite a lot of attention in recent weeks, DayZ, which gained early access on Xbox One last year, and quite possibly, Cyberpunk 2077, the dystopian cyberpunk game from The Witcher creator CD Projekt Red.

Of course, there’s a very good chance that a third party game we aren’t expecting to see gets announced on Microsoft’s stage, as they often do. But what they are can be almost impossible to predict. Of course, that’s what makes them exciting to see, isn’t it?

Microsoft E3 2016 Predicted Lineup

Gears of War 4
Halo Wars 2
Forza Motorsports 6 Apex
Forza Horizon 3
Re:Core
Scalebound
Crackdown
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Battlefield 1
Ghost Recon: Wildlands

ID@Xbox:
Cuphead
The Solus Project
TACOMA
Ashen
Below
Inside
Pit People
Adrift
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

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