Are you counting down to E3 2014? We are here at Gamesided! Every day this week, we’ll take a look at one of the five companies that holds a Monday press briefing (or Tuesday, in Nintendo’s case) to help kick off the event in the same order that you’ll see them from Los Angeles. Today we lead off with Microsoft.
Despite how people make it seem sometimes, nobody actually “wins” E3. But for big competitors like Microsoft and Sony, there are relative victories to be had as the gaming community compares one presentation to another, and in 2013, public opinion came down pretty firmly on the side of Sony.
Add in the fact that the PS4 has so far outsold the Xbox One and it’s easy to see how crucial it is for Microsoft to make a big impression in 2014. Its press conference is the first really important thing that happens during E3 week, meaning it can set the bar very high for the companies that follow. Microsoft failed to do that last year, but if you’ll excuse a well-worn cliché, the console battle is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s plenty of time for the Xbox One to catch up.
The interesting twist is that Microsoft has promised to make its briefing all about the games, but because of some changes it announced not that long ago regarding the Xbox One hardware and some popular apps that are going to be freed from the Xbox Live Gold paywall, it’s going to have to spend some time talking about things that are … well, not games. So let’s start there as we delve into our first category, which should be self-explanatory:
Things I’m sure we’ll see at the Microsoft briefing
- That new Kinect-less Xbox One
The release date of the new Xbox One without the Kinect Microsoft once assured us was an essential part of the experience is no coincidence. The new SKU is due out the same day as the press briefing, something we’re sure to be reminded of, most likely in the first few minutes of the presentation.
- A reminder about those entertainment apps
Despite criticism last year, that there was too much emphasis on the Xbox One as an “all-in-one” living room box and not enough on its function as a powerful new gaming console, the fact remains that people expect to be able to use Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLG and other apps without paying a separate subscription fee for the privilege because they can do so on other machines. Again, since these changes were announced in advance, I expect we’ll hear a bit about them early on before moving on to games for the rest of the time.
- All things Halo
Even though we won’t be playing Halo 5: Guardians this year, you know darn well it’s going to have a presence of some sort at E3 — and we gamers will probably eat up any morsel Microsoft gives us. The good thing is that there will be more Halo stuff to talk about than just that. Rumors are swirling that we’ll see an HD remake of Halo 2 later this year, and there’s that Halo TV show coming down the road with some guy named Steven Spielberg involved. Microsoft’s most famous exclusive brand is going to continue its prominent role.
- Sunset Overdrive
I’m not going out on much of a limb here, considering that Microsoft is having a Sunset Overdrive event at its Century City store on the Wednesday of E3. That’s great for the people in that area, but the rest of us need to see more of this crazy-looking, open-world shooter. Too bad my doctor told me I’m not allowed to have energy drinks … Seriously though, this is an Xbox One exclusive that is actually coming out this year (that’s the plan, anyway), so you can bet the house it’s going to be featured at the briefing.
- Project Spark
Is it really even fair to call this a game, or is it more accurate to think of it as its own platform or gaming ecosystem? We may know more about how to answer that question when we see more, and we should get to see how this intriguing concept is progressing. Maybe Microsoft will even give us a release date, or at least some idea of when it will come out of closed beta.
- Some sign that Microsoft hasn’t totally bailed on developers making games that require the Kinect
I mean, there will still be Xbox Ones being sold with a Kinect, so it stands to reason we’ll get a reminder not to forget that. Here I’m thinking primarily Fantasia: Music Evolved, but if there’s anything else in the works that needs a Kinect to play, we’re going to see it.
Things I think we’ll see at the Microsoft briefing
- Fable Legends
This prequel got heavy consideration for moving into the “definite” category, especially since there’s a screenshot floating around. I wanted to leave myself an out just in case, but since this is another potentially big Xbox One exclusive, and the console needs system-sellers, I’d say there’s a very good chance we’ll see something from it.
- Something involving Gears of War
Remake, continuation of the series … I honestly don’t know. But Black Tusk is working on something, and Microsoft didn’t purchase the franchise from Epic to have it sit around gathering dust in the heads of gamers. Gears needs to be kept in the console-exclusive conversation even if the next game isn’t quite imminent yet.
- At least a mention of Titanfall
Titanfall didn’t revolutionize shooters or even reshape the eighth-gen sales landscape, but it sold a lot and got plenty of great reviews. The consensus seems to be that it’s too soon to talk sequel, even though we all know it’s a matter of when and not if. But some footage of new DLC, new Titans or whatnot? Sure. Also if Microsoft wants to put a full-size Titan in the lobby of its briefing again, I’d be alright with that.
- Forza Horizon 2
(UPDATE: Literally minutes after I originally posted this, I saw that Forza Horizon 2 was officially announced and is on the way this fall. Go ahead and bump this up to “sure we’ll see” status if you’d like.)
Or whatever it ends up being called. Some new open-world Forza game is coming if leaks are to be believed, and while I don’t think any racing or driving game can tip the balance in the console battle, this is a brand that does carry some weight.
- New hardware and/or hardware bundles
Obviously, this is somewhat dependent on which Xbox One exclusives actually make it out in 2014. Rumors have talked up a white Xbox One or a Sunset Overdrive bundle, and I wouldn’t bet against either one of those. Would a Halo 2 remaster be enough to warrant a bundle? Got me.
Things I hope we’ll see at the Microsoft briefing
- Indie games
Sony got a lot of love for coming out and embracing indie developers with the PS4 at last year’s E3. Though this is an awfully big and vague wish, it’d be nice to see Microsoft come right back with its own talk of how it plans to get more indie games on the Xbox One. A surprise exclusive of some sort would be great.
- At least an acknowledgement of VR
This isn’t a popular opinion given the breathless excitement and giddy anticipation in some quarters over the Oculus Rift, but I don’t think we’re all going to be donning virtual reality goggles this year or next. That being said, if the Rift catches on and Sony’s Project Morpheus does the same, this is an area where Microsoft could easily be left in the dust. Does the company have something up its sleeve here?
- A surprise that comes completely out of left field
One of my strongest memories from E3 2013 was riding a shuttle from my hotel to the convention center the day after the press briefings when the whole bus was full of psyched up Sony employees. I stick to what I said at the top about no one winning E3, but in that moment, it sure felt like someone did. With no dog in the console fight, I’d love to see Microsoft rise up and make it a more even battle, but I think to do that, it needs to completely knock our collective socks off with something we aren’t expecting. Naturally, that makes it somewhat difficult to predict what it might be. As Sean Connery once said, I’m waiting to be impressed — and I hope there will be a complete shock that does it.