Coming out of E3 2017, Xbox needed a home run. Microsoft has been outsold almost 2:1 by PlayStation, and the public controversies and collapse of big-name titles during this generation – including the broken state of Halo: Master Chief Collection, the removal of splitscreen from Halo 5, and the outright cancellation of Fable Legends and Scalebound – have left Xbox languishing. So did the company hit it out of the park at E3 2017?
Not quite, though it came very close; arguably closer than they have in years. Let's start with what many were looking forward to: the full reveal of Project Scorpio.
Xbox One X… box
Why is naming consoles suddenly so difficult for the games industry? Look, I get it. Microsoft needed to keep the ‘Xbox One’ bit so people wouldn't think this was a whole new generation of console. But follow Nintendo's lead and call it the ‘New Xbox One’ or even better, ape Sony and go for ‘Xbox One Pro’.
After all, PS4 Pro may not be the most imaginative name out there, but at least you have an idea of what it is. Xbox One X doesn't mean anything. Putting that aside, it sounds too similar to Xbox One S! Can you imagine placing an order or asking about these at your local game store? "Yes, I was wondering if you have any Xbox One Xs in stock?"
Seriously. Stop and read that out loud. It's clumsy, it's too close in sound to an existing product, and it says nothing about the console itself. It's a bad name, Brent. Though admittedly, I do like the fact that, since I tend to abbreviate Xbox One as XBO, now it'll be XBO X. Har har.
This is not how you show off 4K
Following up its reveal of Scorpio's proper name, Xbox debuted Forza Motorsport 7 - which looked great! Amazing, even! I particularly loved the way windshield wipers and netting billowed in the wind. But saying a Forza game looks good is like saying Antarctica is cold. That is to say, the obvious reaction from everyone is going to be, "Well duh."
And following up Forza was… Minecraft: Angry Men With Guns Edition. Okay, so it's actually called Deep Rock Galactic, but procedurally-generated caves and blocky graphics are not the games to show off your dazzling processor power. The game could be quite fun, but that's only half the equation here. If this were any other year for Xbox, this would've been a fine game to show. It is not the game people are going to buy your expensive new box for.
Game after game followed this unfortunate model. They all looked fine, but ‘fine’ is not what Xbox needed. Don't get me wrong, The Last Night looks slick as hell and I loved what I played of The Artful Escape at PAX, so I'm not dissing on these games. But again, they're not graphical powerhouses. They're not the "oh wow, I need a new system so I can play these at even higher definition" types of games.
Assassin's Creed Origins came close, but with so many leaks ahead of time it was hard to feel like we were being shown something really new. Metro also looked fabulous, but again, established series. Nothing was the surprise we needed, and for a while, it seemed like we would never see what Xbox One X was really capable of other than a pretty racing game - which was part of a series that is already known for being ridiculously pretty! It was frustrating.
Crackdown gives hope
A new Crackdown has been on Xbox fans' wishlists for years. And while Crackdown 3 was confirmed way back in 2014, word had been relatively quiet ever since. Some thought that, along with Fable Legends and Scalebound, it had gotten the axe. And then up popped Terry Crews with his trademark wild-eyed stare and "woo!!"-worthy screams.
It was a little cheesy, sure. But this was the closest Xbox could came to a Last Guardian-style moment of resurrecting a game that was once little more than a pipe dream. At this point, most of the audience for Xbox are brand loyalists; the promise of Crackdown 3 feels like a thank you for that loyalty.
And this was the moment the Xbox conference started to turn itself around. Cuphead, which was in danger of becoming vaporware, was given a release date. Path of Exile was spotted in an indie game montage. Ori and the Blind Forest was getting a sequel. Xbox started showing us titles that gamers knew and cared about. All we needed was that flash, that sizzle, to whet our appetites.
An Anthem for Xbox players
I said in our "10 Questions E3 2017 Needs To Answer" article that Xbox needed to re-establish itself as the place to play games. Without a single moment of its 90-minute broadcast dedicated to TV apps or live sports or Skype calls, I think it's fair to say Microsoft squeezed in as much software as it could. There were artful indies, big-name franchises, and even some rising stars brought to the stage.
So now we come back to that question, with an addendum: is Xbox One X the system on which to play games? Did Microsoft sell us on its super-powered console? If the Microsoft press conference had ended one game earlier, I'd say no, definitely not. But that's not how Microsoft ended its day; it ended it with Anthem, and hot damn does that game look good.
We still know very little about exactly how Anthem plays, but everything about it was what Xbox needed: a new IP with gorgeous visuals, enhanced by the power of Xbox One X. Sure, you could play Anthem on a regular old Xbox, but here was a game that finally begged the question, "but why would you if you can have it better?"
This wasn't an established series known for its beauty. This was something new, and we could let our minds run wild with possibilities, because nobody knew what to expect. We could daydream without limit about lush forests, spectacular vistas, daunting creatures, all rendered in crystal clear resolution. Anthem made us perk up our ears and got us interested.
As for me, was it enough to sell me on a new $500 box? No. (Wait, seriously? $500?! *sigh*) But! At least now you have my attention, Xbox. That's not where I wanted to be after your conference, but it's a fine place to start.