Look, I’m the first to admit that 2017 hasn’t been the biggest for Xbox One so far. The cream of the exclusivity crop came in the form of Halo Wars 2 in February, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the first half of this year for Microsoft. But this is the calm before the storm. The team at Xbox is biding its time, and pushing all resources into one thing – 4K – because with Project Scorpio on the horizon, Microsoft is preparing for a fight. The OXM team (okay, mostly me) have already been quietly salivating over specs and screenshots that have given a glimpse into the 4K future of gaming, but at E3, the fun really starts.
The specs for Scorpio are two things. First, they’re wildly unintelligible to anyone without a degree in computer sciences. And second, they’re stupidly good and incredibly exciting. Microsoft has already been shouting about how it’s making the most powerful home console ever, and we’re about to see what that means when it comes to actual games. For years, PC owners have been enjoying the power of silky-smooth 4K gaming, with slick frame rates and massive resolutions on their UHD monitors. Now, Xbox owners will finally be able to join them as they play the best-looking console games ever made.
Microsoft has already announced most of the hardware specs of Project Scorpio – which you’ll find in more understandable terms in the latest issue of OXM – and we’ve even seen a snippet of how games will look. These glimpses, though, won’t compare to how games will look when played in 4K, on an HDR display, using an Elite controller with the new console. The biggest challenge Microsoft faces at E3 – an event that most of the gaming world will watch on compressed video streams through 1080p displays – is making the games look as good as they will in the flesh. It’s no easy task, but if the team can pull it off with 4K streaming, through services like Microsoft’s own Mixer, they may just convince those on the fence about the power of Scorpio.
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Without games, though, the power of Scorpio won’t mean much. We already know about a few – Forza 7 and Crackdown 3 are the big hitters that are headlining – but Microsoft will need to dig deep to really show off what its new console can do. We’re talking Halo and Gears in 4K that will really knock people’s socks off. A new Remedy game that Sam Lake introduces in his wonderful accent. Hell, I’d even take a reboot of Blinx at this point as long as it made people sit up and say “Christ, that talking cat looks really bloody good”.
A console is nothing without exclusives, and Forza 7, as real as its cars, drivers and tracks might look, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. We need to see some big names appearing at the conference this year – if we do, Scorpio can come out of the gate flying. It doesn’t have to be new games either. I’d be happy to get fully remastered versions of some classics. Halo 3, remastered in 4K at 60fps, anyone? How about all four Gears titles? Perhaps a spot of Fable? My excitement is building just talking about it.
If the Nintendo Switch has proved anything so far, it’s that launching a console with remastered (or just re-released) versions of excellent games can be a success, and for Microsoft it could be an easy win. It just needs to throw some big name 4K remasters at the console in its first few months and it buys some time for the teams to create new titles for late next year. Whatever form they appear in, we fans need to hear about the big guns that are on their way to support Scorpio’s power.
And the rest...
That’s part of the story, anyway, because Scorpio also needs some serious third party support to make it a success. It needs the big names – COD WW2, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Destiny 2, FIFA 18, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Battlefield 1, Far Cry 5, and many more - all ready to jump on board the 4K and HDR ship in order to deliver the ultimate gaming experience, and guarantee that Scorpio’s early adopters haven’t forked out hundreds for a new console to find that most of its games look basically the same.
The good news is, everything I’ve heard about the new console suggests that it’s exceptionally straightforward to develop for, and it’s very simple to get a performance boost over the standard Xbox One versions. Microsoft’s job will be convincing studios that creating extra-spangly versions of their games is a worthwhile use of their time. If it takes studios a couple of weeks to get a build of their latest game running better on Scorpio, that’s half the battle won.
Dev kits have been with creators for a few months now, so E3 should give a fairly good indication of how the industry is feeling about the console. I’ll be paying close attention to how many game announcements from companies like Ubisoft, Activision and Bethesda specifically mention 4K or Scorpio versions.
There’s plenty more that Microsoft could do to ‘win’ E3 this year. Pricing of the Scorpio will be important, and making sure it’s actually affordable may even convince the doubters. Adding big names to its fairly new Game Pass subscription service would be great. Making the Xbox Design Lab available worldwide, and letting us customise our new consoles, would surely result in some of the best and worst designs in console history. Whatever it does, I’m excited. This is the first year for a long time that I don’t really know what to expect from E3 - there are so many unknowns, and I can wait to see what surprises are in store.
Stephen Ashby is Editor of The Official Xbox Magazine. The latest issue is on sale now with a massive Darksiders 3 exclusive on the cover, as well as previews, reviews and features on all the biggest games for Xbox One. Buy it now in shops or online.