Xbox has been in a bit of a rut this generation. It launched with confused messaging - is this a device for games or TV, the world asked - and weaker technical specs than its competition, all for a more expensive price. And while things have certainly turned a major corner since those early days, Xbox still lacks a solid slate of first-party games and exclusives (high profile cancellations like Fable Legends and Scalebound certainly haven't helped in this regard).
Simply put, coming out of E3 2018, Xbox needed a solid win. Did it get one?
Halo leads with questions and vagueness
Xbox's press conference kicked off with a mysterious trailer that had everyone wondering just what it was we were looking at. The camera panned over a variety of landscapes, showing us wooded forests, vast deserts, and steamy jungles, among other biomes. We saw deer and rhinos stampeding across the plains, but still no one could tell what this was teasing. As the music swelled and we began to see more human figures, decked in military garb, it became clear: this was a Halo game.
Sure enough, the camera pulled back to show a Spartan holding its helmet as it looked down across a sprawling valley. Then we saw a Warthog speeding along a cliff as the iconic melody became clear and one more pan, upward, to show that we were on a Halo ring, beacons firing into the sky. "Halo Infinite," the text read, as the trailer ended with the shot of a Spartan plugging in an AI chip into its helmet.
My reaction: Awesome! I can't wait to hear more about this! Is it open-world? Is it different from Halo 6? Was that Master Chief we saw? If so, how come his helmet and armor looked different? So many questions! And then... nothing. Phil Spencer took the stage, saying that "With Halo Infinite we will join Master Chief on his greatest adventure yet to save humanity," which is about the most 'well, of course' statement ever, and... that's it. No release window, no talk about the game's designs, no one from 343 to wax philosophical. Nothing.
This might feel like me picking on Xbox's handling of Halo, but it was emblematic of a recurring theme throughout the press conference: Come back next year.
The Microsoft Studios family grows
Nestled between reveals and trailers, Spencer also took a moment to let everyone know that four studios had been acquired and added to the Microsoft Studios family, those four being Playground Games, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, and Ninja Theory. If you want more information on these developers, be sure to check out our breakdown of their histories and what they might be working on next.
While each of these studios is a great addition to the Xbox family and I'm glad to have them working on Xbox content, I couldn't help but hear the message again: Come back next year! There's nothing to show just yet, but look at all these great studios! They're going to be put to work on some super cool stuff! You'll see it next year!
More game reveals. A montage of indies coming via the ID@Xbox program. An anime mashup fighting game featuring DragonBall Z, One Piece, Death Note, and Naruto. A new FromSoftware game set in feudal Japan called Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (you didn't think they'd let Nioh be the only one of those in town, did you?). Forza Horizon 4. Crackdown 3. The Division 2. A Gears of War / Funko POP mobile game. Wait, what? Really? Really? Okay, that's... unexpected, but I'll try it. Battletoads? Battletoads.
And so many of them with the tag-line, "coming 2019". The biggest game coming to Xbox - and only Xbox - this year is arguably Forza Horizon 4. And don't get me wrong, I love Forza Horizon 3. Like seriously, I usually can't stand even semi-realistic racing games and I've easily put 100+ hours into driving around Australia's beautiful landscapes. So yeah, I'm looking forward to Forza Horizon 4. But unless you are a very specific type of person, it's not the type of game that makes you say "I need to buy an Xbox for this".
In a year when Microsoft has been criticized for not having exclusives to rival the likes of Sony's God of War or the upcoming Spider-Man, Xbox has a racing game. Again: a gorgeous racing game that I am looking forward to, but one I recognize as part of a smaller market. Halo, Gears, Fable, and the rest of Xbox's heavy-hitters either won't make it in time for Christmas or, in Fable's case, are completely absent. Come back next year.
Is Xbox the best place to play?
To Microsoft's credit, it did choose some fantastic games to show off during its conference. The Division 2 will no doubt appeal to the dedicated community that's stuck by the first game's side. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice ought to satisfy those hungry for a new Dark Souls / Bloodborne experience. Fallout 76 will no doubt occupy many of our nights when it comes out. Hell, Xbox even confirmed Frozen for Kingdom Hearts 3, which is pretty dang cool (pun definitely intended).
And to close out the show with the now-expected 'one more thing' moment, Xbox gave us a look at Cyberpunk 2077. God is it pretty.
While Cyberpunk 2077 is not exclusive to Xbox, if Microsoft can maneuver its console as the place to play it, this could be a huge win. Still, for now, it's just the (very cool) trailer for a game we know is coming to other platforms. Probably in 2019.
Microsoft has managed to keep a lot of its promises in the past (Fable Legends and Scalebound notwithstanding). Phil Spencer says Xbox will be the best place to play. Do you believe him? I guess we'll find out in 2019.