E3 2015 kicks off in just a couple days, and as usual, there questions facing each of the major console holders. Is this it for the Wii U? What's going on with Sony's first-party exclusives? And what the heck is up with the HoloLens?
There's no denying that the ground is rapidly shifting beneath the feet of the three principle console holders; but for this show at least, it's still mostly status quo. With the future very much up in the air, though, it's fair to wonder how each of them will tackle E3 2015. In many ways, the groundwork for the future will be set down here. Here are the questions that are on my mind going into the show.
Nintendo: Is this the Wii U's last hurrah?
It hurts to write this given how good the Wii U's first-party titles have been over the past couple years, but it's no secret that it's struggled to find a real niche. With kids drifting to mobile, and enthusiasts mostly embracing the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC, the Wii U has been left to cater to an increasingly small core of Nintendo diehards. As such, the clock appears to be ticking on the Wii U, which is in the midst of its third year on the market.
As often happens in periods like this, Nintendo has been working feverishly on an innovative new solution. In the tradition of the Nintendo DS, it will be a "third pillar" that is not supposed to compete directly with the Wii U, which is to say that it is the designated successor unless Nintendo decides otherwise. Make no mistake, Nintendo will be rising to heaven or sinking to hell on the back of the NX, not the Wii U.
So where does that leave the Wii U? Pretty much the same place it's been for the last couple years — an underperforming console with a handful of really terrific exclusives. Star Fox has already been confirmed for E3 2015, and Nintend will also have Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yoshi's Wooly World, and whatever else Nintendo announces (don't sleep on Mario Galaxy 3, even if it doesn't make it to the show floor. That's not a bad batch of games of by any means, and they'll give the Wii U an opportunity to go out on a high note.
Still, there's no denying that the clock is ticking for the Wii U. Even Zelda has been delayed, possibly so that it can make its debut on the NX instead of the Wii U, putting it in much the same position as the GameCube back in 2006. In that regard, I think it's fair to say that this is indeed the Wii U's last hurrah.
Sony: Will Sony's middling first-party development come back to haunt them?
It's not an issue that's gotten a lot of attention since the debut of the PlayStation 4, but Sony's first-party development has lately lagged well behind that of Nintendo and Microsoft.
Though Uncharted and The Last of Us are very well-regarded, Sony's other franchises have seen mixed results. MLB: The Show and Gran Turismo are strong but niche offerings. Killzone and inFamous are mid-tier releases at best, and lately, the same can be said of God of War. LittleBigPlanet 3 was released last year to positive reviews, but almost no fanfare. There's an argument to be made that Bloodborne is the PlayStation 4's single most important exclusive outside of Uncharted.
Thus far, however, Sony's middling first-party releases have done little to slow down the PlayStation 4. With its decided edge in the indie space, and with third-party console exclusives like Bloodborne, and soon Street Fighter V and Persona 5, Sony has more than held their own against Microsoft and Nintendo this generation. But as the novelty of being able to play four-year-old Steam games on the PlayStation 4 wears off, one has to wonder if Sony has anything up their sleeves for E3 2015 that will jumpstart the PlayStation 4's first-party development.
At E3 2015, Sony will be trotting out the latest entry in the Uncharted series, which is a good start. I wouldn't be shocked if God of War put in an appearance as well, if only as a teaser trailer for 2016. But right now, Sony's best bet is to put out something genunely new and exciting. With franchise fatigue being what it is, Sony Santa Monica could be better served on working on a new property than, say, working on yet another God of War remaster.
I'm not holding my breath, though. Sony seems content to leave the innovation to indie games like No Man's Sky and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, which is the strategy that has gotten the PlayStation 4 where it is today. With the PS4 continuing to sell briskly, I'm guessing they see little reason to change course now.
Microsoft: How much will Microsoft emphasize the HoloLens?
I can't tell you what Microsoft wants out of the Xbox One these days. They've mostly managed to right the ship after a rough start, and signs point to another solid E3 with Halo 5 in the lead; but with the Xbox One failing to take over the living room as promised, and consoles continuing to be a fractional part of Microsoft's bottomline, you really have to wonder what the goal is for the Xbox these days. "Selling more consoles than Sony" might not be enough.
Right now, most of Microsoft's attention appears to be on prepping for Windows 10, which will have a far larger impact on its future than the Xbox One (most of Microsoft's profits come from enterprise software). Part of that rollout will involve the HoloLens - the versatile peripheral announced earlier this year that will focus on augmented reality rather than virtual reality. The HoloLens has already been confirmed for E3 2015, but the question is how large of a presence it will ultimately have.
My feeling is that Microsoft will carve out a portion of its press conference to demo the HoloLens, with hands-on time being limited to private sessions, as was the case with the Kinect five years ago (how time flies). Windows Central has a pretty good breakdown of what the HoloLens will likely mean for gaming, which pretty much boils down to floating HUDs and other extras that will be bolted onto existing titles. Of course, with the HoloLens reportedly set to cost more than an actual Xbox One, its fair to question how much traction it will ultimately get in the gaming space.
It's truly a strange time for Microsoft, which is under more pressure than ever from the likes of Google. The Xbox One is ultimately a very small piece of the puzzle, but even it is being drawn into the struggle to some degree, which is reflected by the fact that the HoloLens will be shown at E3 2015. It just goes to show that righting the ship and occupying a space as a dedicated gaming console might not be enough for the machine that was supposed to be so much more. And even as Microsoft wheels out a strong suite of new games and continues to build on the platform's third-party base, there's reason to wonder what the future ultimately holds for both the console and its developer.