Of the big three platform holders, it was Microsoft that I believed had the most to prove this year. With Sony steady in its success and Nintendo’s reemergence with the Switch, Microsoft’s recent weaknesses became more and more evident. Before E3 I wrote an article in which I tried to dissect why Xbox was now struggling against the runaway success of PlayStation 4. In that article I pointed to three major factors, a lack of first-party support, a lack of exclusive titles and a lack of lengthy and remarkable single player titles. To their credit, Microsoft attempted to address all three of these factors to varying degrees. I don’t believe these attempts were very significant, however. The centrepiece of Microsoft’s E3 showing was Xbox One X, their new 4K capable Xbox One iteration. The most inanely named console since the Wii U boasts much more powerful specs and the ability to play games in 4K (at least some games). As Microsoft continually reminds everyone, the X is the most powerful console ever. This would be excruciatingly uninteresting if the XBX didn’t have some compelling titles that utilised that power. Thankfully Microsoft showed that the Xbox One X has many titles, new and old, that can be enhanced if played on their new machine. However, as someone who owns an plain old Xbox One, I saw no reason to upgrade. I believe the XBX is better positioned for consumers looking to upgrade from a regular PS4 or choosing to buy their first current gen console. It may even be a good option for people who want a cheaper alternative to a full PC gaming rig as the two consoles share most “exclusives.”
This leads me to the games, I can’t count the number of times the word “exclusive” was uttered at the Xbox conference but it was definitely a lot. Unfortunately, most of the “exclusives” they showed were only exclusives if you ignored the fact that you could play games on a computer. I understand that Microsoft sees Windows as their own platform but at some point we have to ask ourselves what the purpose of Xbox is when one could easily connect a PC to a 4K TV and play any title on it with a console controller. That said, taken on their own merits, Microsoft showed a solid lineup of new and interesting games headed to Xbox One. Titles like the latest Forza look as great as you expected them to and they look even better running in 4K on an Xbox One X; the cute action platformer, Super Lucky’s Tale is the Rare game that Rare refuses to make. Unfortunately that’s about it for worthwhile exclusives, as titles like Crackdown and Sea of Thieves were disappointing. Crackdown was XBX enhanced, but I would not have questioned it someone told me it was running on an Xbox 360. That can be somewhat forgiven for a game five months from release but the core gameplay of Crackdown 3 feels stuck in 2006, nothing feels like it has progressed beyond the first two titles. As for Sea of Thieves, it remains a title no one asked for and demoed poorly at E3 due to it’s nature as a co-op team-based title. Expecting to get any meaningful experience from a ten minute demo with strangers who don’t know how to play is not reasonable. The E3 demo didn’t really provide any indication of whether or not Rare’s latest attempt will be worth it.
Honestly, I think one of the biggest stories out of Microsoft’s show was the addition of original Xbox backwards compatibility to Xbox One. The ability to play across three generations of hardware hasn’t really been done since the launch models of Playstation 3. Microsoft still has the same issues coming out of E3 as it did going in. Exclusives are still the biggest issue but at least they’ve begun to try and address it and he Xbox One X is is sure to drive some interest. When it was all said and done, Microsoft had a solid E3, they certainly didn’t steal the show but catered to their already existing fans and made a decent pitch to those on the fence.