It felt like we were building to something momentous with this E3. Rumors abounded that Shigeru Miyamoto might step on to the stage at Microsoft's E3 press conference, or that Halo Infinite might be playable at the show. Instead, the big winners of the weekend seem to be Ikumi Nakamura, who energetically skipped across the stage to introduce Shinji Mikami's new project, Keanu Reeves, and, weirdly, Fallout 76. In the end, the anticipated Project Scarlett reveal, expected to be a highlight of the show, was merely adequate.
In fairness, it would have been hard to top the outsized rumors that have been floating for the past couple weeks. The expectations of a console announcement are always better than the reality, especially with an 18 month gap until release. Microsoft did much the same with the Xbox One X back in the day, opting to hold the specs, design, and even the name until the following year.
There was also the issue of leaks. The announcement of a collaboration between Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki and Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin should have been a huge deal, but it had already been revealed several days before. Indeed, many of the biggest surprises were leaked last week, draining much of the momentum from their actual reveals.
Still, Microsoft's press conference felt curiously flaccid given what was at stake. It fell 30 minutes short of the expected two hour runtime, but it still felt like it was dragging hard by the hour mark, with Gears 5 in particular being met with only scattered, awkward applause. Halo Infinite being a launch title for Project Scarlett was a big deal, but the game itself only received a CG trailer with no gameplay. Expected announcements, like Ori and the Will of the Wisps being on Nintendo Switch, failed to materialize (though there's still time).
The biggest reactions were reserved for Keanu Reeves' aforementioned appearance on Microsoft's stage, and surprisingly, Phantasy Star Online 2— a seven-year-old MMORPG. Not exactly the result you want out of your big next-gen conference, especially with the stage basically to yourself.
It might have been unfair to expect Microsoft to blow the roof when, again, their new console is still 18 months away. But there were frankly a lot of ways in which Microsoft got this press conference wrong.
- Forza Horizon 4 was confirmed to be getting an expansion pack; but for the first time in many years, no new Forza game was announced at the conference. That's a disappointment given that Forza is a graphical showcase and a Microsoft staple. It didn't even get a next-gen confirmation.
- Fable was nowhere to be seen. Given the dearth of first-party exclusives, a Fable reveal would have been a solid boost.
- Bleeding Edge, the new game by Ninja Theory, failed to make any kind of impact with its tiresome art style and attitude. It's not a great start for Microsoft's new clutch of studios.
- Gears 5 likewise didn't land at all. Between the very strange clash of moods between the two trailers; the lack of gameplay, and boring announcements like the Terminator character pack, it felt like the low point of Microsoft's press conference.
- There was no hint of Microsoft's new relationship with Nintendo. The announcement Xbox One could become a mini-cloud server did a great job of undercutting Google Stadia, but even that got lost in the mix a little bit.
- The Halo Infinite reveal was only a brief teaser with no gameplay. There was very little for fans to get excited about aside from a very brief glimpse of a Warthog riding through a massive world.
- The Project Scarlett announcement was ultimately fine, but it was little more than a teaser. After all the rumors that Microsoft would "go big" with its reveal, the actual announcement felt pretty small, ultimately touching only on general points.
In effect, Microsoft opted to punt to 2020. That's fine, I suppose, in light of the expected release window, but with Sony ceding the limelight at this year's show, the stage belonged to Xbox. Microsoft responded with a conservative show with few surprises.
Happily, there's still time for Microsoft to make a splash at this year's show. Microsoft is teasing an Inside Xbox for later today, which promises new details on Halo Infinite and backward compatibility. Tomorrow's Nintendo Direct may also include promised announcements like Ori 2 for Nintendo Switch.
Even if that's the case though, the main feeling I had after the show was done was, "... Oh." Honestly, it makes Sony look smart for skipping E3. With a single interview in Wired, it arguably made a bigger splash than Xbox, as it had the entire news cycle to itself. That's some good value for your marketing.
We're still a year away from the main event, so Microsoft will have opportunities to build up excitement. But that doesn't make Microsoft's E3 press conference feel like any less of a missed opportunity. With Sony decisively winning the most recent generation, Microsoft has a long way to go to get back on level terms with its competitors. After today's show, it's clear that there's still a lot more work to be done.
Major Game Releases: June 10 to June 14
Here are the major releases for the week of June 10 to June 14. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Devolver Bootleg [June 10, PC]: Um, if you tuned in to Devolver Digital's illicit E3 2019 press conference last night, you were treated to the usual torrent of blood, vomit, traumatized androids, and swearing. But lo, a game announcement did emerge from the slurry of human fluids: Devolver Bootleg, a collection of purposefully "bootlegged" Devolver titles, e.g. Hotline Milwaukee and Ape Out Jr. I'll be honest, the official Steam page can explain this one better than I can.
- Battle Worlds: Kronos [Switch, June 11]: Hex-based strategy game Battle Worlds: Kronos gets a Switch port this week. The Switch is swimming in strategy games, but hex-based titles that mimic the more hardcore war games of old are a bit of a rarity.
- Forza Horizon 4 LEGO Speed Champions [Xbox One, June 13]: The LEGO-based Speed Champions expansion for Forza Horizon 4 comes out this week. Stepping on LEGO bricks hurts like a mother, but how does driving over them feel? Find out for yourself. For my money, the trailer for this reveal is one of E3 2019's best so far.
This Week's News and Notes
- Well, E3 2019 sure as heck is in full swing. We've already got oodles of coverage for you to look at already. After the new Xbox was sort-of revealed as Project Scarlett alongside Halo Infinite, we looked at how Infinite needs to take some strong lessons from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and the Switch launch in general) if Scarlett is to be a success out of the gate.
- Holy Materia! The Final Fantasy 7 Remake has an actual release date! Look for (possibly the first installment of) the game in March of next year.
- Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2 got a new gameplay trailer, and it's looking like a very dark, very bloody good time.
- Caty went hands-on with Doom Eternal, and she breaks down some important differences she's already noticed between this installment and its popular predecessor.
- Psychonauts 2 is happening soon, and Caty takes an in-depth look at how Double Fine is able to tell genuinely great jokes while some game developers' yuks tend to fizzle on impact.
- Kat went hands-on with FIFA 20, and she has tons of observations to spare.
- Finally, Eric explores how Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order improves lightsaber battles and makes them more strategic versus a Stormtrooper slicing free-for-all .
- Looking for all our E3 coverage? We corralled it into one handy-dandy spot, which is updated constantly. Check in early, check in often.