LOS ANGELES—Without its direct console rival Sony anywhere in sight at this year’s E3, the team behind Xbox took advantage with a Sunday press conference that revolved around games, games, and more games. In particular, Microsoft finally began paying forward its investment in various acquisitions over the past couple of years to make a huge Xbox Game Studios statement in the form of legitimate gameplay variety.
Even with that in mind, nobody in the room was surprised to see one game elicit the loudest response: , now confirmed for “holiday 2020” as a launch title for the code-named Xbox Scarlett console.
“We lost. We lost everything.”
Unlike the game’s E3 2018 tease, this year’s reveal revolved around “game engine footage” that bordered on the kind of stuff you’d expect from a pre-rendered sequence. This quality came primarily from lengthy zooms on an unnamed civilian stuck floating in space on a UNSC vehicle. The trailer begins with this character waking amid booming alarms, which he deactivates by clumsily twisting a valve in a ceiling compartment.
After showing incredible detail and animations on his panicked face, the sequence shifts to a view of a holographic device showing footage of an apparent wife and child—rendering the woman’s appearance with what looks like real-time volumetric capture, the likes of which we’ve only previously seen in compelling VR cinema sequences. This sentimental moment, in which both loved ones talk about missing this man, we see a tight camera zoom on his strained, nearly sobbing face. It’s a beautiful, emotional piece of rendering work, made all the more impressive when his breath wafts in a cold room via dense particle effects.
Shortly after this, the man in question looks through his vehicle’s cockpit to see Master Chief’s iconic suit floating lifelessly nearby. The sequence concludes with Chief coming back to life, manually yanking himself out of a life support rig, at which point the man gestures to the cockpit: “There’s something you need to see. We lost. We lost everything.” Sure enough, a massive rip has been torn through the series’ iconic halo-shaped planet.
From there, Chief responds to a surprise attack on this ship by locking the other guy into the cockpit, opening the airlock, and leaping out. The scene fades to white, followed by Chief walking along a familiar path with familiar ally Cortana’s voice saying, “I chose you because you were special. I knew we would be perfect together. And I was right.”
Tantalizing leaks confirmed
One of the event’s biggest pop-culture crossovers, the new From Software game , had already been leaked multiple times ahead of Microsoft’s press conference. The basic gist we knew: Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin is part of the game’s “world development,” working in tandem with creator Hidetaka Miyazaki.
That leak didn’t include footage of how the game looks in action, and today’s brand-new teaser trailer didn’t do much to fill that gap. Its evocative visuals saw dramatically lit human characters kneeling, hammering, and staring stoically into the sky, while its narration included vague phrases: “The Elden Ring. Shattered, by someone, or something,” and “Look up at the sky. It burns.” Publisher Bandai Namco did not attach any release window to the reveal trailer.
New game , from Xbox Game Studios’ Ninja Theory, also suffered from a pre-E3 leak, and its melee-focused, four-on-four gameplay looked identical to the game’s leaked trailer. Instead of emphasizing exactly how its mechanics play out with a controller in hand, this trailer put a spotlight on a hypercolored cast of characters, seemingly ripped out of previous Xbox exclusive game .
Luckily for us at Ars, we went hands-on with the game immediately after the press conference, where we discovered a frantic third-person combat game that compared positively to the wild character balance of beloved MOBA games like and , only with a heavy foot on the gas in terms of those genres’ character-specific superpowers and turf-controlling tactics. How exactly the game will play out in the hands of a rabid fanbase remains to be seen, but a June 27 open beta will give us a more ample opportunity to test a variety of melee-focused bruisers, shape-shifting controllers, and tricky healers.
Somehow, the event’s craziest reveal did leak ahead of E3: Keanu Reeves as a starring character in the upcoming CD Projekt Red adventure game . Weirdly, that game’s box art and “special edition” contents leak days before the event, but that left plenty of interesting info under wraps.
An “Ultimate” roster
Microsoft’s bullish stance on the Xbox Game Pass continued apace with the reveal of a new paid-subscription tier: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which costs $15 per month and bundles two existing subscriptions and one brand new one. The existing Xbox Live Gold and the console and PC versions of Xbox Game Pass. (As of press time, this service does not include a bundled 3-month or 12-month option.) This was followed by Microsoft’s surprise premiere of a new version of for Xbox One and Windows 10.
Its trailer began with a “powered by Azure” tag, along with an explanation about cloud processing used to process and render its real-world locations, then showed some of the most stunning real-time world simulation we’ve ever seen in a game. The trailer began with commercial aircraft flying over densely detailed cities and biomes, then shifted the perspective to a stunt-plane flight over prairies and cities. Zip over the space needle, then soar above a crowd of giraffes. How exactly that kind of incredible detail will scale to existing Xbox One consoles remains to be seen.
Soon after, a whirlwind sizzle reel of [email protected] games played out, with an attached guarantee that each of these titles would be playable for Xbox Game Pass subscribers on the games’ public launch days. Games in this slew that we’ve already played (and quite enjoyed) included puzzle platformer , an -like multiplayer romp called , a narrative-heavy romp through a booze-soaked hell called , and the eight-player port of arcade sensation .
Seemingly every Microsoft-published game at the event came with some promise of Xbox Game Pass support (with the exception of , which is admittedly the most far-out first-party game in terms of launch window). The upcoming first-party sequel is no exception, and it finally received a release date: September 10, 2019. Instead of a major campaign reveal, however, its developers at The Coalition confirmed a slow drip of news over the next few months, including a “multiplayer tech test” going live in July and a Horde Mode reveal on August 19 as part of Gamescom.
Until then, interested fans can rush to either an E3 kiosk or a participating Microsoft Store to try out the series’ newest co-op PvE mode: “Escape.” Few details were given, but the three-player mode appears to revolve around planting a bomb within a hive of enemies, then killing your way through your escape route as you take down an enemy scourge from within. Instead of more clearly revealing how the mode will mechanically work, The Coalition trotted out a cinematic trailer that had a surprising lack of soldiers hiding beneath chest-high cover—perhaps hinting to a more active combat style for this mode. One thing that was clear, at least, was that the mode emphasizes customized characters who haven’t previously appeared in Gears games.
First- and third- party spillover: expected thrills, surprise delights
The event’s first-party lineup goes on and on: , coming “this fall” with original pixel art combined with 4K resolution support and a “new campaign” pitted against Genghis Khan’s empire; the LEGO Speed Champions expansion pack for , which combines real cars, LEGO cars, real-world environs, and LEGO-ized environs; the smartphone-exclusive , which finally revealed how much it resembles the popular free-to-play phone series ; and , which borrows so liberally from (top-down isometric perspective, multiple character classes, four-player co-op, screen-filling magic attacks, loot juggling, dozens of on-screen foes) that we wonder whether Mojang just filled the hole in our heart we’d been reserving for the maybe-some-day Blizzard launch of .
Another Xbox Game Studios game,, received another evocative trailer on Sunday, only this time with a release date: February 11, 2020. Having already played its E3 2018 demo, we’re confident that its momentum-driven action will be a blast, but now we also have a sense that it’s going full steam ahead with a variety of incredible looking boss encounters. Its whirlwind demo included the hero Ori running and leaping madly away from screen-filling beasts: a spider, an owl, a wolf, a snake, and an eagle. Each was bathed in different impressive, atmospheric effects, and a few saw Ori react with its own supernatural powers to either dash away or fight back.
The event didn’t slouch on third-party fare, either. It actually began with a stunner of a presentation from Obsidian, one of Microsoft’s newest studio acquisitions, for its upcoming RPG . (That game still appears to be part of a publishing plan outside of Xbox Game Studios.) This was the game’s biggest gameplay reveal yet, showing portions of its opening sequence. The game begins with players landing as the sole survivor of a planet-colonization space mission gone awry, and today’s new trailer shows off a variety of powerful weapons being shot at massive monsters–between first-person conversation sequences that very fondly recall the studio’s work on .
The event’s other major third-party trailers came from familiar fare like , , and brand new indie fare like and , and a surprise reveal of a creepy-as-heck horror game simply titled . But the biggest “what the heck was that game” surprise may have come from a new indie take on ’80s RPGs, titled . This mix of plastic action figures, hand-drawn flipbooks, papercraft monsters, and other tabletop creations looked like the kind of genre-mixing madness that a child would invent in his or her middle-school sketchbook, only literally brought to life with all matter of controllable objects.
But in terms of taking players back to Saturday morning-caliber cartoon whimsy, Xbox Game Studios pulled a surprise one-more-thing out of its sleeve: the acquisition of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Studios, which is barreling forward with development of its long-awaited, crowdfunded sequel . Unsurprisingly, that game got a revealing trailer of its first mission following the announcement, along with confirmation of its “2020” launch window.