So, it’s official: Final Fantasy XV has been delayed. Rumours sprang up over the weekend, based on conversations with retail sources and backed up by photos of marketing materials, but yesterday director Hajime Tabata confirmed it to be true, with the long-in-development title being bumped from its original date of September 30th to November 29th.

In a video, which you can see below, Tabata explained that, while the game went gold a few days ago and the team had begun work on a day one patch, they had ultimately decided to push the release back to make sure these fixes could be pressed to the game discs that we’ll all be buying at retail. “Our objective with Final Fantasy XV was to deliver a Final Fantasy of the highest possible quality, to every single person who buys the game,” said Tabata, who went on to explain that, because not everyone who buys the game would be able to apply the patch, the team felt the best course of action was a short delay. Not only will the patch improve the game’s performance and overall polish, it will also contain “pretty substantial content,” added Tabata.

And so, we’ll be waiting a further two months to get our grubby mitts on the game. And while it might seem a ridiculous thing to say about a game that was announced ten years ago, it’s probably for the best they don’t rush this one out before it’s done. Not only are there a decade of fan expectations riding on it, but possibly the Final Fantasy brand itself, which has taken a bit of a battering in the wake of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and the disastrous launch of Final Fantasy XIV Online. While XIV 2.0 has seen an enormous turnaround to become a massive success, the brand is still in a bit of a precarious situation. Square Enix needs this one to be a hit.

Perhaps as some form of consolation, we have been treated to some new content to tide us over for a bit. First off, we now have the first twelve minutes of CGI tie-in movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV available to watch on YouTube. The film, which takes place just before the start of the game, begins with a scene-setting narration from Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the princess of Tenebrae, who brings us up to speed on the state of the world, and the conflict between the magical nation of Lucis and the militaristic empire of Niflheim, who desire the crystal that powers Lucis’ prosperity. As a young Noctis visits Tenebrae with his father, the kingdom is attacked by Niflheim soldiers in an attempt on the Lucian royalty’s lives. Noctis and his father escape, but Tenebrae comes under imperial rule.

Later, we see a battle between Lucis’ Kingsglaive, an elite force of soldiers bestowed with the power of Lucis’ crystal, and the invading forces of Niflheim, made up of human and mechanical soldiers, as well as an assortment of quite horrific looking monsters, including enormous behemoths. There’s even a cameo from a ‘daemon’ that fans of Final Fantasy VII will recognise. It’s been a fair while since we’ve had a CGI film out of Square Enix, and it’s clear to see the upgrade from Advent Children; Kingsglaive simply looks photorealistic at times, especially where character faces are concerned. The editing can feel a little schizophrenic during action scenes, as if the director was on a days-long Red Bull binge, but it does serve to give this first huge battle a frantic feel, and it’s certainly a hell of a spectacle, as the two forces clash over an abandoned town on the edge of a huge, precipitous rock bridge.

Ultimately, this quick look at Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV isn’t going to sate your thirst for anything FFXV-related, as it’s likely to just leave you wanting more. At least the full film will be available to download in just two weeks’ time.

The second bit of new content has just been made available to coincide with the start of Gamescom in Cologne, where the game is playable from the start. Unsurprisingly, it’s a gameplay video from the very beginning of the game, and it runs for almost an hour. This footage has been taken from the gold master version mentioned in Tabata’s apology video, so we can get a look at how the game runs at this stage in development, before the addition of what would have been the day one patch. Fans who played last year’s Episode Duscae will feel immediately at home as, after a rather interesting bit of foreshadowing, the game begins with Noctis and his retinue arriving at the Hammerhead garage to get their broken down car fixed. Luckily, this time Cindy isn’t asking them to hunt down an enormous behemoth, and instead charges them with a bit of simple pest control to pay off their debt.

There are changes though. The party meet Cid almost immediately, and the Hammerhead itself isn’t actually in Duscae this time, but the neighbouring region of Leide. So if you’re sick of seeing the green fields and shimmering lakes of Duscae, at least now you can look at some parched, mountainous scrubland instead. Result? Throughout the fifty-minute clip, we get to see plenty of features of the game, taking in combat, quests, camping, driving, and even a smattering of cutscenes, though with some judicious editing to make sure we aren’t spoiled too much. The footage comes from the first three chapters, which Famitsu report took them 25 hours to get through, so we’re getting a pretty in-depth look at the early stages of the game here.

Final Fantasy XV looks to be in pretty great shape from this extended look, and though it’s a pain to see it delayed just as it was getting close enough to grasp, we can’t complain about a bit of extra time to polish it up to a pristine shine. And besides, after ten years, what’s a couple of extra months?

Not content with creating just one new class of enemies, Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition has this week unveiled a second all-new faction. This time, they’re robots.

The unveil comes in a new campaign video, courtesy of IGN, which features grumpy old man Marcus Fenix leading the new generation through his burning home, while fussing about his tomatoes – a fixation he has apparently inherited from his old buddy Dom. The eight minute clip gives us our first look at the ‘DeeBees’, robotic shock troops that come in at least four flavours. First up is a small, rolling drone that seeks the player out before exploding, much like Gears 2‘s ticker, and just like the tickers you can swiftly boot them clear. Next up are two humanoid units, one a fairly normal-sized adversary, the other a much larger, sturdier variant called a ‘heavy’, which comes equipped with a short dash to help it evade fire, close distance or even hurdle straight over cover. Lastly, and most interestingly, there’s the Guardian, a shielded airborne unit somewhat reminiscent of Halo 2‘s Enforcer sentinels.

Of course, this new class also brings fresh weaponry to the fight, and all four new guns look like a treat to use. The Enforcer immediately calls to mind Halo 5‘s SMG, though perhaps a little rangier, while the chunky, rectangular Overkill looks like some kind of super-shotgun, absolutely shredding enemies at close range. Then there’s the Embar, a railgun-type rifle that charges up to deliver enormous damage at more of a distance. Lastly, we have a successor to the Mulcher, a triple-barrelled monster called the Tri-Shot that seems like an amalgamation of the aforementioned chaingun and Gears 3‘s utterly ridiculous One-Shot.

One thing that comes to mind watching this new footage is quite how powerful these new weapons look, and it makes me wonder if that means we’ll see these new enemies used fairly sparingly throughout the campaign. Of course, there’s the question of where these ‘DeeBees’ come from, and I wonder if that name is itself a hint, with their creator perhaps being the original trilogy’s resident smart-arse Damon Baird. He’s portrayed throughout the series as a man who can make anything with two sticks and a piece of old gum, so it stands to reason he’d be building things for the new government in a post-war world. They’re clearly out to get JD, Del and Kait – the former two having deserted – and I wonder if they serve as a means to make the Coalition of Ordered Governments something of an antagonist without the developers having to resort to human-on-human combat, something fans didn’t take to very well with 2013’s Judgement.

Do not mess with this man's tomatoes

Do not mess with this man’s tomatoes

While the DeeBees are something new thematically, they do mostly fall back on established archetypes, and along with the Swarm drones’ familiarity to the dearly-departed Locust, fans may be feeling that The Coalition are playing it a little too safe. Though as Rod Ferguson, head of The Coalition, has previously said, the team need to do it right before they can do it differently – with their first game, they need to prove they understand the fundamentals of Gears before they go too crazy with it. Happily, everything we’ve seen of Gears of War 4 so far suggests that the Vancouver team know exactly what they’re doing, with their game looking like a proper Gears campaign, but with the addition of some shiny new toys – and some seriously inclement weather – to play with.

Sonic 25th anniversay
After much teasing and dropping of hints, Sega have finally announced what’s next for Sonic the Hedgehog in this, his 25th year. The Blue Blur will be speeding through 2017 in not one but two new games, with the retro-inspired Sonic Mania set to launch next Spring and a new main series entry, currently called Project Sonic 2017 due later in the year.

The two games were announced at Sonic’s birthday party at San Diego Comic Con, which was also streamed live on Twitch and YouTube. Unfortunately for those of us at home, the stream was a bit of a mess; it started much later than advertised, and then suffered persistent audio problems, with sound occasionally dropping out entirely. In fact, the stream was so buggy that one wondered if the surprise announcement would be a straight port of Sonic 06.

Thankfully we were spared the horror of that alternate reality. So let’s look at the first of these new games, Sonic Mania. As if to appease those fans that are constantly calling for a more classic Sonic experience, Sonic Mania looks like a lost Megadrive game, and development is being led by Christian ‘Taxman’ Whitehead, known among Sonic fandom for his work on ports of Sonics 1, 2 and CD, using his own Retro Engine. He was joined on-stage by head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka, who mentioned that along with all new levels (one of which, Studiopolis Zone, is shown off in the reveal trailer), classic levels will be present and remixed in the new game. Graphics, movement and momentum all look absolutely spot-on, as you’d expect from Whitehead, but beside fresh stages there’s also a new gameplay mechanic in the Drop Dash, which seems to allow you to initiate a spin dash in the air, zooming off as you hit the ground. It looks like it’ll be great for sudden changes in direction while maintaining momentum. Sonic Mania was playable at the event, so there’s already plenty of gameplay footage on YouTube, but for us mere mortals unable to attend the party itself, the new game is currently scheduled to launch on PC, PS4 and Xbox One next spring.

So we’ve got our classic, 2D Megadrive-y Sonic covered, what about Modern Sonic, I hear you cry? Well, held back until the very final moments of the party was a reveal trailer for Project Sonic 2017. Although Iizuka made a point of saying that the new game was not a sequel, but a “brand new experience”, it’s difficult not to see the game as Sonic Generations 2. Indeed, the trailer sets the scene by proclaiming, “From the team that brought you Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations” leading us to believe it’ll be a return to the successful ‘boost’ formula seen in those games, as we see Modern Sonic boosting, jumping and sliding. Moments later, he’s joined by Classic Sonic as the pair team up, just as in the hedgehog’s last anniversary game.

Fans have been hoping for a return to the playstyle of daytime-Unleashed/Colours/Generations for a good few years now, after both Lost World and spin-off Sonic Boom each failed to impress, but one thing that may give pause is the tone of the trailer. Opening on a devastated city (that looks suspiciously like the one from City Escape to me…) under attack from enormous automatons that look more than a little bit like Sonic 2‘s Death Egg Robot, the colour palette is muted, swamped in browns, and the final tagline of the trailer reads, “Join the Resistance.” Hmm. Hopefully the full game is not too self-serious, as that just doesn’t work very well for Sonic (you need only take a look at Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow the Hedgehog or the aforementioned Sonic 06 for proof of that). I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a grimdark Sonic though – the last few franchise entries, even as far back as Unleashed, have been generally breezy, ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ affairs, and it feels like the people at Sonic Team now realize this is where the franchise needs to be. Project Sonic 2017 is slated for late next year, and will hit PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo NX.

Alongside the game reveals, the party was of course a general celebration of everything Sonic. We got a brief look at both Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice for the 3DS and the character’s appearance in Lego Dimensions, as well as a short clip from Season 2 of the well-regarded Boom cartoon; the cast even came out on stage to do a script reading, but unfortunately the stream rather annoyingly cut away from this. The tone was often completely, bafflingly, bonkers, with random interjections for such mundanity as a nacho tasting session from one of the sponsors, but it opened up to a rather half-hearted, lethargic set from Hyper Potions, complete with a lifesize, very Mikudayo-looking Sonic mascot who waddled onto the stage to throw some uncomfortable-looking shapes. Sonidayo later returned to the stage alongside Hello Kitty, for possibly the most inexplicable crossover you could imagine. It did, however, allow me to gif this.


Yep. Totally worth it.

Other than the games, the highlight of the night came when legendary Sega composer and Crush 40 guitarist Jun Senoue hit the stage to play some of the band’s Sonic themes. To be honest, it felt a little weird at first to see Senoue jamming along to a backing track, but I have to admit to grinning like an absolute loon when he started to play Escape from the City, encouraging the crowd to sing along, and when he followed that up with Open Your Heart, joined onstage by Crush 40 singer Johnny Gioeli, I was not at all surprised to find myself actually singing along. Well ok, not singing, as it was about 3:30 am, but mouthing the words, at least. It was a performance that lacked a bit of the energy you’d have got from a full band playing live, but it was still a great treat for the fans, especially those that love the music of the Sonic series. It must have been fun to be there in person.

This was an event by and for Sonic fans, and by all measures it was a massive success. As a Sonic fan, I’d have loved to have been there myself. However, the series still faces struggles in the wider market; Sonic remains a big brand in gaming, but the ‘Sonic Cycle’ is still in full effect, with the last two big games undoing all the good that Colours and Generations managed to do. With a return to a proper classic style of Sonic, as well as a game that looks to be expanding on those two excellent ‘boost’ games, it certainly looks like we’re on the upswing again. The only way it could be any better is if there was also a Sonic Racing 3 on the cards. Ooh, just imagine.

[Credit for Crush 40 live clips: W10002 on YouTube.]

Blizzard have finally unveiled the first new post-release hero for their hit team-based shooter Overwatch. Say hello to Ana Amari, support sniper and mother to the rocket-wielding Pharah.

While we already have a couple of snipers in the game, in Hanzo and Widowmaker, Ana sets herself apart with her wide range of support abilities. Her biotic rifle fires darts that either heal her allies or deal damage-over-time to her enemies, with a scoped shot hitting for more initial damage. A biotic grenade allows Ana to deploy an AoE heal which also harms enemies. Additionally, affected enemies cannot be healed for a short duration, while allies receive a boost to healing from all sources. Imagine throwing one into a contested point while Zenyatta uses his ultimate or Lucio pumps up the volume.

Ana’s other ability is a sleep dart that she uses to knock out a single target – though any damage received will rouse them from their slumber – which should be very useful for taking isolated enemies out of the game for a moment. Her ultimate, Nano Boost, is a powerful support ability that boosts an ally’s movement speed, damage resistance and damage output all at once. Imagine hitting a Reinhardt with it and having him clear out a chokepoint, or stacking one with Soldier 76’s ultimate to create a fast-moving death machine.

As well as a gameplay introduction video, Blizzard have also released a short origin clip for Ana. In it, Ana relates her history with Overwatch to her daughter, explaining how, much like Soldier 76 and Reaper before her, she came to be presumed dead only to later return to the fight. It seems she had some kind of showdown with Widowmaker, leaving her gravely injured, and with a whole heap of regrets. It’ll be interesting to hear some of her lines when teamed up with a Reaper, Soldier or Widow, and hopefully there’ll be some nice insights into her relationship with Pharah.

Our first post-launch hero has long been suspected to be a support sniper, ever since a glimpse was caught of a sniper-y silhouette placed in the support category during one of Blizzard’s pre-release videos. And while we already knew Pharah’s mother, an original member of Overwatch, was called Ana, most expected this new hero to be called Sombra, thanks to easter eggs littering the game’s Dorado map. It’s now thought that Sombra is another character entirely – possibly one linked to Gabriel ‘Reaper’ Reyes, thanks to a voice line that can be heard if you play him on Dorado (“Where’s Sombra when you need her?”) and the fact that Sombra means shadow in Spanish. Perhaps she will be a later addition and have a playstyle leaning towards stealth?

Ana is currently live in the Public Test Realm on PC, and it will be interesting to see how Blizzard react to her wider use, and whether any changes will be made to her abilities prior to full release. Blizzard have been very proactive thus far with regards to character balance, not being afraid to jump in and tweak things like McCree’s fan the hammer or Torbjorn’s turret damage on console. D.Va is another character that has been discussed recently, with Jeff Kaplan musing on whether she needed a damage or survivability buff, and it seems the team have settled on the latter, with changes being made to her defense matrix ability, as well as some useful tweaks to her ultimate. As someone who plays D.Va quite a lot, I’m excited to get to grips with the changes. Zenyatta will also be seeing some substantial buffs, increasing his survivability and buffing his ultimate quite substantially. You can check out the latest patch notes here.

It’s unclear how long those of us on console will have to wait for both Ana and these balance changes, but in the meantime, with both already live to test on PC, we can at least check out how they’re received in the meantime.

A while back, I commented on Sega of Europe’s hesitance to announce localisations for their own games, and happily, we are now starting to see some movement in this area, as Sega and its subsidiary Atlus last week announced a partnership with Deep Silver to publish a number of titles in Europe.

Atlus fans can breathe a very large sigh of relief as, thanks to this deal, we’ll be getting both digital and physical releases for both Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (it’s worth remembering that the original SMTIV didn’t even receive a physical release in Europe). Surprisingly, Deep Silver have also picked up Sega’s 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, the third game in a series that has, until now, never seen a release outside of its home nation. This is great news in itself, as many were beginning to think that the 3DS title would never see release in Europe, despite now being out in the US.

Persona 5

Deep Silver’s press release mentions that the “…publishing deal will cover the wide array of future titles for both physical and digital versions across PAL territories,” so hopefully we’ll also get some more releases out of this development; one franchise conspicuous by its absence is the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series. The latest release, Project Diva X, hits American shelves next month, while Japan has just recently been treated to a lavish port of Future Tone, the previously arcade-only outing. While the latter is currently Japan-only, there’s been no word on whether we’ll see Diva X on European shores, so whether Sega plans to publish the game itself in this part of the world or ignore it completely is, unfortunately, unknown.

It’d be a shame if the game fails to see a release here, as it’s managed to establish itself, as well as the entire Vocaloid phenomenon, quite well so far – a digital-only PS3/Vita release of Project Diva f did well enough to earn a physical release for the sequel, again on PS3 and Vita, while the second game did well enough in turn to ensure a boxed release of Project Mirai DX on the 3DS. Given their deal includes 7th Dragon, I’m actually quite surprised there’s been no word on Project Diva X, assuming it was on the table, of course. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Deep Silver would pass up a reasonably established franchise in favour of picking up an unknown property that’s never left Japan, and thus will have to build a fanbase from scratch. Strange times, indeed.

7th Dragon III

Quite how it has come to this – with Sega of America and Atlus USA brokering a deal to get games out in Europe, while Sega of Europe apparently sits on its hands – is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t do much at all for those fans that feel SoE couldn’t care less about them, but I guess at least we’re going to be seeing releases – physical ones at that – actually make it out here. If it has to happen withough SoE’s involvement, so be it. Atlus at least has prior with Deep Silver, having partnered with them to bring 360/PS3 puzzler Catherine to Europe, so perhaps this earlier business relationship is what lead to the current state of affairs.

While it may be a bit odd, at least we now know we’ll be getting these games at some point, and that’s the most important thing to take from this turn of events. We’ll just have to pray for Miku.

Note: this piece was written just after June’s E3 trade show. It turns out I’d forgotten to hit the publish button until now. Oops.

With the madness of E3 now over and all those glossy big-budget trailers still rattling around our heads, perhaps it’s time to take a brief look at some of the games that didn’t have the benefit of massive marketing budgets behind them at last week’s video game spectacular. This isn’t to say these games didn’t appear at E3 at all, of course – just that they didn’t get the limelight they might have deserved.

NieR Automata
NieR Automata's 2B
Announced last year to the absolute delight and disbelief of NieR fans everywhere, here was an E3 moment to rival Shenmue 3 for some of us – those that love the game truly, utterly adore it. So it was sad to see this improbable Yoko Taro/Platinum Games collaboration not get a slice of the big-time at Sony’s press conference. With Square Enix declining to hold their own conference this year, the only look we got at the game was through a Square Enix Presents livestream, and thankfully it looked and sounded absolutely brilliant. But it was a slice out of an eight-hour livestream that couldn’t hope to have the reach of a platform holder’s live show.

Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness
Star Ocean's Fidel and Miki
Another game that could have showed up at Sony’s show was the upcoming new Star Ocean instalment. Granted, the reason we didn’t see this at E3 is probably just the simple fact that its release is now mere days away, but with the series having been in limbo for a number of years following 2009’s Star Ocean: The Last Hope (like NieR Automata, this is a sequel the fanbase thought it’d never see), it would have been a really nice gesture for the venerable franchise to get a bit of recognition at a major conference again.

Phantom Dust HD

Not to be confused with the sequel/remake/spiritual successor/whatever it was supposed to be that Microsoft announced back at E3 2014, this is basically a port of the original Xbox game to Xbox One and PC. It seems like a pretty small-scale project, small enough that MS didn’t even announce it at their conference, instead choosing to do so on a YouTube Live stream with Geoff Keighley – the news almost managed to slip through the cracks entirely. It’s obviously not going to be a big tentpole title for Microsoft, and I do wonder if this is just them throwing a bone to the fanbase that was waiting for the new game before it was apparently canned last year. If so, perhaps it was left out of the conference itself for strategic reasons – it may have left something of a bad taste in the mouths of those that were waiting for a new title in the series.

Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0
Likely absent down to Sega’s miniscule presence at the trade show, Yakuza was nonetheless at E3, with series’ creator Toshihiro Nagoshi turning up to demo the game for various outlets. The 80’s prequel was announced for the West (well, sort of) at last December’s PlayStation Experience, so Sony have certainly given it stage time before. Perhaps that’s why they chose not to feature the game at E3. It would have been great to see it on a big stage again, but Yakuza has always had a bit of a hard time in the west so it’s almost expected to see it fly under the radar. It is also an intensely Japanese game.

Gravity Rush 2

After the recent port of the original to PlayStation 4, presumably to help build a fanbase on the console, it was a shame not to see this lovely looking sequel make an appearance at Sony’s show. Niche franchises need all the help they can get, so would it have hurt to stick this beautiful minute-and-a-half trailer on the big screen? It would have given the game some much-needed exposure without taking up much time at all.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Andromeda's Ryder
This may seem a bit of an odd pick, but it feels like all we’ve been getting for god knows how long is dev diary-style sneak peeks. Mass Effect is a huge franchise, and it feels like EA and BioWare have been stringing fans along for ages now; overlong hype cycles tend to have a negative effect on us these days – just look at Watch_Dogs: plenty of people felt they were sick of the game by the time it actually released. With Andromeda out early next year, it really felt like this would be the E3 to host its big reveal party. No doubt we’ll see more on N7 Day in November, but it’s still very disappointing that so little was shown. It was a frustrating moment in EA’s conference, and that’s really saying something.

You’ve probably noted that five of the above games are Japanese, and I do wonder if that points to the reason they didn’t get much love; Japanese console gaming had a bit of a hard time last gen, and while it looks like the industry is bouncing back in a big way this time out, perhaps the market for these games just isn’t big enough to advertise directly to at a huge, western-leaning show like E3. Of course, we saw Final Fantasy XV turn up at Microsoft’s presser, but that series is almost a culture unto itself at this point, and still a massive touchstone for gaming in general. Even then, the Trial of Titan demo shown on-stage by Hajime Tabata and Mat Kishimoto drew plenty of criticism. It’s great that Japanese games are starting to have a bit of a comeback – especially on PlayStation 4 – but whether they can find a decent market in the west is the challenge. Featuring them on the big-screen at E3 would surely help.

I’ve mentioned Sony a fair few times, and that’s because most of these games would have only made sense in their live show. It’s worth noting however that, as well as needing time to properly showcase PSVR, now confirmed to be launching in October, they dramatically cut back their show length this year; whereas previous E3s have seen the company offer up a bloated, meandering two hours, 2016 saw that reduced to a lean, well-paced 75 minutes. Could that have been pushed to 90 minutes and afforded a bit of space for these games? I don’t see why not.

Of course, E3 may be the biggest spectacle in gaming, but it’s no longer the only kid on the block. August will bring Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show hits in September, and Sony may well host their own PlayStation Experience again later in the year. While it would have been great to see these titles on show at E3, hopefully a few of them can get the attention they deserve elsewhere.

Xbox Scorpio
If last year was all about the games, 2016’s focus was the platform. Bookended by a couple of hardware announcements, which we’ll get into later, and with a focus on new features and functionality for the Xbox One and Windows 10 platform, Microsoft showed off a range of games both announced and new. First though, Rod Fergusson appeared on-stage, ostensibly to demo his studio’s Gears of War 4, and began by announcing Xbox Play Anywhere. Effectively a long-overdue cross-buy initiative from Microsoft, Xbox Play Anywhere allows your digital purchases and save progress to follow you between Xbox One and Windows 10, likely as a result of the recent merging of their respective digital stores. It was a positive start to the show, and many of the following games bore the Play Anywhere logo. It’s obviously a big focus for the company from here on in.

Sticking with the platform theme, Mike Ybarra was in attendance to announce some new features for the console and Xbox Live. Later this summer we’ll see new additions like background music and Cortana, and new social features called Clubs and Looking for Group. Clubs seem to be Microsoft’s analogue to the PlayStation 4’s Communities, while Looking for Group is pretty self-explanatory; Ybarra himself called it “a wanted ad for multiplayer.” It should be a very helpful feature for team-based games in particular, such as the recently-released Overwatch. Also announced was Arena on Xbox Live, a new tournament platform that allows you to sign up for tournaments for both first- and third-party games. One publisher already on-board is EA, who will be bringing Arena tournaments to FIFA.

So let’s talk about the games. It was certainly a solid showing for Microsoft, with plenty of great games on the horizon, and we had the chance to get closer looks at some of the upcoming games for Xbox One and Windows 10 – admittedly, games that were announced last year like Halo Wars 2 and Sea of Thieves, or in the case of Scalebound, even longer ago. Still, the games looked great, with Hideki Kamiya once again taking the stage to show off an enormous co-op boss battle in Platinum’s upcoming exclusive. If you’ll pardon the pun, the scale was suitably impressive as a group of players and their dragons took on a truly gigantic enemy crab, hitting its weak points for massive damage.

GIANT ENEMY CRAB

GIANT ENEMY CRAB

Halo Wars 2, now landing in February, had a rather short showing, with a CGI trailer that rekindled memories of Halo 3‘s sublime ‘Believe’ diorama, before Dan Ayoub from 343 studios came out on stage to announce a multiplayer beta, available right there and then for Xbox One. It runs until June 20th, so make sure to jump in now if you want to check it out. Perhaps the most intriguing exclusive title on Microsoft’s upcoming slate was Recore, which we’ve previously only seen a CGI trailer for. Here we got a decent look at how the Comcept/Armature collaboration will play, with a stylish trailer that aimed to introduce us to heroine Joule and her various robot pals that we’ll be using to fight, explore and traverse the game’s sandy world. Fans had been wondering what kind of game Recore would be since its reveal, and we now know it’ll be a mix of third-person combat, exploration, platforming and mild puzzling. It may not be the most visually striking game you’ll see at this E3, but it certainly looks both fun, and something a little different.

Gears of War 4 continues to look great, and this time we got an extended co-op demo as studio head at The Coalition Rod Fergusson brought Laura Bailey, the voice of Kait, out on stage to help demo the game, with our three heroes braving new enemy the Swarm and some seriously inclement weather as they search for Kait’s mother, abducted earlier in the story. It’s good to finally get a look at how the windflares will affect the playspace, with Kait using the new Dropshot weapon to dislodge a wrecked car, the wind sending it barrelling across the battlefield to take out a group of enemies. Later, we see lightning strikes hit the ground, creating new threats for friend and foe alike. It looked excellent, but still very recognisably Gears, a point underlined by the appearance of an older, gruffer Marcus Fenix at the demo’s end, who appears to have been sitting in the dark, waiting for his son to come home.

A real highlight of the previously announced games was Rare’s Sea of Thieves. The Twycross developer recently invited a group of competition winners to their studios to demo the game, and we got to see the results on the big screen. Split into three groups and given no tutorials, the players were sent out into the world to work together, form three crews and take to the high seas. It was an excellent way to demo the game, showing the players getting to grips with things like raising the anchor, dropping the sails and even drinkin’ grog. Later, we saw the crews come together and battle ship-to-ship, frantically manning the cannons and futilely attempting to effect repairs on their splintered hulls, before one crew ended up sunk and sent to the bottom of the briny sea. It looked absolutely brilliant, and I can’t wait to gather a group of mateys and set out to parts unknown.

There was also some Minecraft news, with the game now becoming cross-play across Windows 10, iOS and Android, as two members of the Minecraft team came out on-stage to demo it, with one on a Surface and the other on an iPad. Oculus’ John Carmack appeared at one point to wheel about with a box on his head, representing the Android pillar of the announcement as he played via Gear VR. Remember when John Carmack used to make games? I do!

But what of new announcements? Well, there were a few, of course, though sadly they were either expected (Forza Horizon 3, State of Decay 2) or leaked hours prior to the conference (Dead Rising 4). Still, they all looked good, or better in the case of Forza. Playground Games’ Ralph Fulton (sadly not of recovery system fame) took the stage to demo his team’s gorgeous new game, coming to both Xbox One and Windows 10 this September, as a group of developers bombed around Australia to show off the new 4-player co-op feature – some playing on PC, others on console. Fulton described it as “the largest, most diverse, most beautiful and most fun open world we’ve ever built,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Dead Rising 4, meanwhile, sees the return of Frank West and is set during Christmas, a detail emphasised in the auditorium itself, as fake snow began to fall. The game will be out “Holiday 2016”, and looked a fair bit like Dead Rising 3, so if you liked that, you’ll probably like this one too. Then there was State of Decay 2, Undead Labs zombie survival sequel which now features 4-player co-op in a persistent shared world, surely pleasing fans of the first game back on Xbox 360 who have been calling for co-op ever since.

There was also, of course, a large third-party presence at Microsoft’s conference, and it was something of a surprise to see Square Enix’s Hajime Tabata and Mat Kishimoto take to the stage to demo Final Fantasy XV on Xbox One for the first time, showcasing the Trial of Titan, where you presumably have to win the enormous summon’s respect before you can call down Gaia’s Wrath in battle. We already know the summons are going to be absolutely crazy in this game, and the demo reminded us of the sheer scale we’ll be seeing when the game hits in just three (!) months. Following on from that was a trailer for The Division‘s Underground Expansion, which will be available first on Xbox One later this month, before Patrick Bach from DICE arrived to announce that Battlefield 1 will be available to trial for EA Access members eight days early, on October 13th. Later, Heihachi and Akuma appeared on the big screen to duke it out and show off Tekken 7 for the Xbox One, before Kaz Harada stepped out to announce that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is currently free for Live Gold members, playable on Xbox One via the console’s backward compatibility program.

"Have you taken your Joy?" (SOURCE: www.ign.com)

“Have you taken your Joy?”

Of course, you can’t have an E3 conference without a lengthy indie montage, and after a short look at Inside, the new game from the makers of Limbo that will finally hit Xbox One in two weeks, Chris Charla, ID@Xbox Director, hit the stage to show off glimpses of highly anticipated games like Yooka-Laylee, Cuphead and Below, along with new titles like the intriguing Deliver us the Moon and the beautiful Figment. The absolute highlight however was a stage demo of We Happy Few, the new project from Compulsion Games, the team that brought us Contrast. Coming across like BioShock shot through with Huxley’s Brave New World, it’s coming to Xbox Game Preview on July 29th, and it looks utterly brilliant. Rounding out the segment was CD Projekt Red’s Damien Monnier, taking the stage to announce Gwent, a standalone version of The Witcher 3‘s card-battling game that will be entering closed beta in September.

So it was a pretty solid games lineup that Microsoft unveiled on Monday night, but it’s the two big hardware announcements that bookended the briefing that have been grabbing all the headlines post-E3. Let’s start with the first one, the one that Microsoft chose to open the show: the Xbox One S. A slimmer, 40% smaller iteration of the current hardware, The ‘robot white’ Xbox One S nevertheless comes with a few nice extras over the box launched back in 2013. First up is support for High Dynamic Range output for games and video content that support the feature, allowing greater levels of contrast and luminosity, provided you have a compatible screen. Secondly, there’s support for 4K video for apps and video streaming services, as well as a new bluray drive for UHD discs. Games can now also be upscaled to 4K, and the power brick has been done away with in favour of an internal power supply.

Despite these upgrades, The Xbox One S does not offer any additional power to developers; it will play the same games in the same way as the current system, support for HDR excepted, and all games and accessories will of course work with the new machine. If you want a beefier Xbox though, Microsoft’s got you covered. Well, sort of. At the end of their conference, Phil Spencer returned to the stage to confirm the existence of Project Scorpio, a 6 teraflop monster of a console that will be hitting the market late next year.

“The next step-change for gamers and developers must deliver true 4K gaming and high-fidelity VR,” said Spencer. Scorpio is being targeted as “the we-heard-you console,” the console that developers asked Microsoft to build, and it’s already being billed as “the most powerful console ever” despite being a year and a half away. Still, it’s a claim that seems to hold water, given the expected 4.3TFs of the PS4 Neo, and thankfully Phil Spencer went to great pains to declare that no one gets left behind. “We believe in hardware innovation without sacrificing compatibility,” he said, describing Scorpio as the next addition to the Xbox One family, and “ultimately the next step in delivering our vision for the future of gaming beyond generations.” I’ve talked briefly before about a future without hard resets between generations of hardware, where instead of a new machine starting from zero you get to bring forward all your games, accessories, saves and everything else, and it’s something I’m quite excited to see. So while it seems incredibly early to announce Scorpio, it did excite me.

So why did Microsoft announce their new machine a year and a half out? And why announce the S, when there’s the promise of the new shiny to get excited about? Last week, Sony’s Andrew House confirmed the existence of the PS4 Neo in an interview with the Financial Times, but cautioned fans not to expect it at E3. Prior to this, I thought Microsoft might announce the Scorpio early to keep themselves in the conversation, but with Neo a no-show, it feels like there was a window of opportunity that Microsoft couldn’t afford to miss, a chance to grab the ‘beyond generations’ headlines all for themselves. We of course know that Neo is coming, but we also now know that Scorpio is likely to be a fair bit more powerful – Spencer will surely be hoping the promise of more computing power will give consumers pause for thought once Neo is announced. It almost feels like a reflection of the wait for PS2 when Dreamcast hit the market.

This year, with Microsoft focussing mostly on already-announced games and new platform features, it feels like they’re almost in something of a holding pattern, which perhaps explains the existence of the Xbox One S – here’s this years’ stuff, and here’s a smaller console with a few bells and whistles to tide you over while we work on the next big thing. With Scorpio on the horizon, expect next year to be something of a grand re-launch for the Xbox brand. For now, with games appearing on both Xbox One and Windows 10, with cross-buy linking the two together and a beast of a new console on the way, it feels like they’re in a pretty good place to reach that target.

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