E3 2016: Microsoft Predictions and Preview

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We continue our E3 2016 preview coverage with a look at Microsoft. The market leader for the last console generation now finds itself trailing behind the PlayStation 4 in terms of both market share and gamer sentiment, and the House that Gates Built now needs to figure out how to make up ground with their main competitor Sony — not to mention keep an eye out for what Nintendo has planned with the NX.

With rumors swirling about of one or more new pieces of Xbox hardware, plus some compelling new games on the way and dormant franchises due for an update, we will be paying close attention to what Microsoft has to say during their press conference taking place at 9:30 a.m. PDT on Monday, June 13.

Oculus / VR Partnership

Jorge Albor, Games Editor

Virtual Reality is slowly making it’s way to consumers. Sony’s entering the game big time later this year when they release the PlayStation VR for the PS4. We can expect Sony to lean heavily on its VR hardware at E3 this year, promoting it before launch and showcasing the lineup of games compatible with and exclusive to VR.

Microsoft has to answer with a VR announcement of their own, and rumors are flying that they have been in talks with Oculus to bring the Rift to the Xbox ecosystem — Microsoft would get a VR solution, and Oculus would get access to Microsoft’s sizable developer resources. If this partnership does exist, expect a dramatic unveiling at the Xbox Press Conference on June 13. And of course to make the Xbox hardware-ready for VR, we’re also likely to see another significant announcement…

New Hardware

Matthew Allen, Executive Games Editor

In order to power this alleged VR partnership, Microsoft is reportedly working on a new, more powerful console, codenamed Scorpio, that may be more powerful than the other rumored console that may make an appearance at E3, Sony’s VR-capable new PlayStation, codenamed Neo.

If you aren’t one for comparing teraflops or totally sweet codenames, Microsoft also allegedly has three more pieces of hardware they may reveal at E3. First, there is a newly-designed Xbox One people have nicknamed the “Slim” that will allegedly be 40% smaller than the current model, and offer 2TB of internal storage — twice the capacity of the current high-end Xbox One model. A console redesign mid-generation isn’t too surprising, and is a common practice as technology improves and components get smaller and cheaper to manufacture. This one is all but a given at this point.

However, the other two rumored pieces of hardware are a bit surprising. Microsoft is reportedly working on a pair of streaming devices — a set-top box and a streaming stick — set to compete with the likes of the Apple TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast. The set-top box would be able to play lightweight Xbox games (such as downloadable Xbox Live titles), and apps, such as those currently available on the Xbox One and Windows 10 platforms. The stick would be a way to stream games from an Xbox One in one room of your home to another. These devices are rumored to be priced at $150 and $100, respectively.

All of this ties into the recent trend of Microsoft blurring the lines between the Xbox and Windows 10 platform, an initiative otherwise known as Project Helix. Let’s see if they make any formal announcements here, such as standardizing cross-platform multiplayer for all titles, or even “cross-buy” ownership, meaning if you buy it on one platform, you automatically own it on all others, similar what was done with Quantum Break earlier this year. Consider me “x”-cited.

Battletoads Revival

Brett Bates, Contributing Writer

The original Battletoads, from developer Rare, was revered (and reviled) by NES gamers for its thumb-blistering difficulty. (I’m sure some of you still have nightmares about the “Turbo Tunnel” level.) Rumors of a series reboot have circulated for years, first after vague teases like a copyright renewal and a Microsoft exec wearing a Battletoads t-shirt, and then with increasing frequency after the Battletoads themselves began appearing on modern Xbox consoles — as a boss in Shovel Knight, and a fighter in Killer Instinct. The latest scuttlebutt says a proper sequel will be unveiled at the Microsoft press conference, and I’m inclined to believe it. Just…make it a little bit easier this time, okay Rare?

Below

Matt Hadick, Contributing Writer

I’m excited to see what Microsoft brings to table this year, but more than anything, I’m eager to learn more about Capybara’s upcoming adventure game, Below. I love everything the studio has put out so far, especially Super Time Force and Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP, so I have high hopes for their latest offering. This top-down adventure game looks like a coupling of Zelda’s dungeon spelunking and Dark Soul’s brutal mechanics. The game is a roguelike, so players can expect randomly generated environments and — whether they like it or not — permadeath. So far, this is pretty much all we know about Below’s gameplay — most of my intrigue stems from its evocative aesthetic, with its stark contrasts and a dreamlike world. I can’t wait to learn more about what lurks beneath its surface.

Crackdown 3

Kim Deuel, Contributing Writer

Crackdown 3 follows the premise of the original games: you are a super-powered agent patrolling a huge city in an attempt to stop crime. But the new game promises upgrades to the formula: more story, bigger buildings offering more options and more room, and — as is to be expected — better graphics. Co-op play will also be making a return. The multiplayer mode will utilize the power of Microsoft’s XBox Live Cloud Compute, allowing players to enter a fully destructible separate city that an Xbox One console would never be able to handle on its own. We expect to hear more about the release details, including a confirmed release date during the company’s briefing on June 13. As of the last trailer from August 2015, we have been promised that multiplayer will begin Summer 2016. Hopefully that means a surprise beta beginning immediately after the conference.

New Forza Game

Matthew Allen, Executive Games Editor

Earlier this year, IGN reported that the new Forza game would be announced at this year’s E3. Microsoft also sent out information about a special Forza event taking place immediately following the press conference. They have even already announced that the next cover car for the series will be the Lamborghini Centenario.

A new Forza game announcement at E3 shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to the show for the last few years, as Turn 10 has announced and released one game per year, alternating between an official, “numbered” version of the game, and a new Forza Horizon title. Since Forza 6 was announced at last year’s E3, it is probably safe to assume that Forza Horizon 3 will receive the spotlight this year.

The bigger question may be will this new title be exclusive to the Xbox One, or will Microsoft finally bring the series to the PC, which is something fans have been eager to see happen for several years? This year’s announcement of Forza Motorsport 6: Apex opened the doors to the possibility of seeing a full version of Forza on the platform. And while it may seem odd for that game to be the more arcade-style Horizon series, since the hardcore PC fans could really dig into the simulation and customization aspects of the official series, this could be the opportunity to test the waters and work out the kinks on the platform in anticipation of the inevitable Forza 7 next year.

Gears of War 4

Matthew Allen, Executive Games Editor

Microsoft already revealed plenty of details about Gears of War 4 earlier this year, such as the Oct. 11, 2016 release date. Players also got their hands on the multiplayer during the beta back in April, which was also when the “Tomorrow” trailer shown above was released. Let’s hope Microsoft uses E3 to expand upon what was shown in that trailer and reveal even more details about the single-player (and co-op) campaign, especially the new enemies the Swarm, and main protagonist JD Fenix, including more details about the “incident” that caused him to go AWOL from the COGs and meet up with the Outsiders.

ReCore 

Kim Deuel, Contributing Writer

We first saw the announcement trailer for ReCore at E3 2015 suggesting the game follows the adventure of a young woman, Joule, in a sand-filled environment with her companion, Mack, a seemingly sentient blue orb-shaped core that can be placed in and control a robot form. While we still don’t know a lot about the game, we do know that it is a third-person action-adventure game and tells the story about the last few remaining humans on Earth who, along with their robot companions, seek to rebuild humanity. The game is non-linear and the environment is an open landscape of shifting sands. Microsoft originally confirmed a release date of Q2 2016 on Xbox One and Windows 10, but this has since been changed to later this year. Hopefully, E3 will bring us more news and a solid release date.

Scalebound

Kim Deuel, Contributing Writer

Scalebound is a multiplayer role-playing adventure game for one to four players filled with “exploration and fantasy gameplay.” Players will travel on an epic and dangerous journey following the main character Drew, who meets and bonds with Thuban, the last dragon of the planet Draconis,. Together they go head to head against perils and massive beasts. Scalebound was first revealed at E3 2014 and while its release was expected to be in the second half of 2016, it has since been delayed until next year according to the developers at Platinum Games. As stated in an official blog, this was to allow them to “deliver on our ambitious vision.” They stated in January that players would get more insight into their vision later in the year. Some of us are hoping that “later” means E3.

Sea of Thieves

Matthew Allen, Executive Games Editor

While Brett’s Battletoads revival prediction is very likely to happen, another Rare game was announced at E3 last year that will hopefully re-emerge at this year’s show. Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer pirate adventure game featuring a shared world and… we don’t really know much else. Rare has been trickling out info via their community channels, but hopefully we get more concrete details on this ambitious project at the show, including an estimated release date.