As the current console generation draws to a close, it's difficult not to look at this generation as the one that kinda, well, got away.
With merciless competition from Sony's PlayStation 4 (PS4) right out of the gate, alongside an evolving, and frankly, disruptive, Microsoft corporate consumer strategy, the Xbox team certainly hasn't had it easy. That hasn't stopped the company from innovating, though.
The Xbox One X remains the most powerful console ever made, Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass service is driving new revenue streams, and with Project xCloud game streaming around the corner, Microsoft will attempt to tap relatively untouched market.
While I do expect Microsoft to talk hardware and services at E3 2019, which officially begins June 11, many will be looking at the Redmond Giant to deliver an answer to its biggest criticism in recent years: it isn't investing hard enough in content. With a huge array of growing studios, alongside much larger operations such as 343i, Mojang, and Playground Games, we should begin seeing the fruits of Microsoft's gaming content strategy in E3 2019.
Here are a few of my personal E3 2019 predictions, expectations, and wishes, ahead of Microsoft's big event on Sunday, June 9.
(Disclaimer: Don't take these as leaks. This is a recap of rumors and whispers ... with a bit of wishful thinking.)
What Microsoft games can you expect at Xbox E3 2019?
Microsoft has been pretty cautious with its game announcements following the cancellation of games like Fable Legends, Phantom Dust, and Scalebound. The triptych of missed expectations has undoubtedly contributed to a drop in the way Microsoft's first party efforts are perceived, and one would hope Microsoft is gearing up to build confidence in the quality and variety of its in-house content.
Microsoft, like many big publishers, seems to also be facing a bit of an existential crisis when it comes to what types of games to pursue. The core cries out for single-player titles that match Sony's The Last of Us or God of War, but like any company, Microsoft plays to its strengths, and right now that is cloud tech and online infrastructure. Multiplayer games factor in heavily to Microsoft's gaming-as-social push across Mixer and Xbox Live, in general, so I expect we'll see plenty more of that this year.
I've heard credible rumors that despite winning awards for its single-player title Hellblade, Ninja Theory is, in fact, working on some sort of multiplayer game, in a similar vein to For Honor or Absolver. I'm not sure how true that one is, so we'll have to wait and see. I've also heard that Rare is working on another multiplayer game, alongside Sea of Thieves, which may come as a disappointment to those expecting a return to Banjo Kazooie or Conker. Still, there's no reason Rare wouldn't be able to outsource and contribute those IPs, similarly to what they're doing with Battletoads and Dlala Studios. I expect we'll see the new Battletoads in some form, even if it is brief.
I wholly expect a Halo Infinite trailer this year, perhaps even featuring gameplay for the first time. Halo Infinite is a massive undertaking for Microsoft and 343i, as they seek to bring the franchise back to its former glory. Halo Infinite will launch on PC, complimented by ports of the Halo Master Chief Collection to Steam. Halo Infinite has been rumored to be taking on some form of "RPG" approach to its gameplay, but I've heard that any progression systems are soft at best. You're not going to be grinding stats, put it that way.
Age of Empires will also feature at E3 2019, but despite some rumors of an info blowout, I heard whispers that developer Relic isn't ready to showcase Age IV yet. I'm sure we'll be reminded that it's on the way, but it's more likely that Microsoft will talk Age of Empires II Definitive Edition and Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, leading into IV's eventual launch.
Microsoft will show off a new Forza Horizon 4 expansion at E3 2019, and I've heard that rather than being location-based, it will be another brand-oriented partnership in a similar vein to the Hot Wheels DLC. If you were a fan of Hot Wheels, you should be pleased with what Playground is bringing to the table here, if what I've heard is true.
On the more obvious side, we're probably going to hear updates on Wasteland 3 and The Outer Worlds from inXile and Obsidian Entertainment respectively. We might get some information on the next We Happy Few DLC as well, given that out of the three promised updates for the season pass, only one has materialized. Sea of Thieves might sail across with some new DLC information, too. I also expect an ID@Xbox montage, which is virtually tradition at this point.
Gears (of War) 5 will feature at E3 2019 this year, which we expect to pick up a September 2019 launch date. We should begin to see more of the gameplay details in full, to flesh out the snippets of information we've received so far. Gears 5 will be more open than previous games, evolving the franchise beyond its overly linear roots. As for the PC-bound Gears Tactics, I haven't heard that we'll be seeing it this year, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility.
If I had to guess, I'd say it might be too early to see anything from The Initiative, given that the studio is still very new. I think we could see Minecraft Earth gameplay for the first time, though. Despite being a phone game, it has the very raw potential to be as massive as Pokemon Go, and Microsoft will want to get its name out there.
What about that Fable reboot? I'm not expecting to see it at the show, but who knows?
Third-party games at Microsoft's E3 2019 showcase
There are rumors that Microsoft has boosted its E3 2019 showcase to two hours, partially in order to accommodate third-parties this year. With Sony sidestepping E3, Microsoft has the biggest stage upon which to announce partner games, so be prepared for a lot of new stuff.
Last year, Microsoft closed the show with a spectacular "hackjob" from Cyberpunk 2077, so I think it's almost certain we'll see more from CD Projekt RED at the show this year. Although Ubisoft has its own conference, it showed off unique trailers for the Xbox stage in the past, so we might get a closer look at the likes of Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the rumored Watch Dogs 3 set in London, or the "leaked" Rocket League-like Roller Champions.
EA doesn't have its own conference this year, either, so expect to see Respawn Entertainment's Jedi Fallen Order take the spotlight. We might see trailers for Square Enix's Avengers, too. Bethesda and Microsoft work closely together, as well, so there's every likelihood we'll see some DOOM Eternal hit the green stage.
There are a few other known games that might make an appearance on Microsoft's show, such as Monster Hunter World: Iceborne from Capcom, and Dying Light 2 from Techland. With two hours to fill, there should be piles of new stuff from every corner of the globe to sink our teeth into. Speaking of teeth ... I really do hope that unlikely Dino Crisis reboot rumor turns out to be true.
Hardware, services, and studios
Following Sony's PlayStation 5 announcement, there's no reason to think Microsoft won't follow suit with its own next-gen console reveal at E3 2019. Long rumored to be split into two separate SKUs, the "Xbox Scarlett" range will push premium power with Anaconda, and a more affordable alternative in Lockhart. I'm expecting Anaconda to be more powerful than the PS5, although we won't know for sure until we get to drill down into the details.
We're expecting the new Xbox consoles to come with an all-new OS, based on Windows Core OS, which we've been covering for some time now. Expect an all-new dashboard based on the Fluent Design System, with the speed and fluidity at the forefront. The next Xbox will be fully backward compatible with the existing library on your Xbox One, including X360 and OG Xbox back compatibility.
Update May 30, 2019: Due to some confusion over this paragraph, I've updated this section. We've heard that there's a possibility that, at least at launch, there will potentially be a period where new Xbox Game Studios titles launch for both Scarlett consoles, and original Xbox One consoles. This potentially pertains to the completion of Game Core, which is a development environment that won't be coming to the older Xbox consoles, as it's tied to the development of Windows Core OS. The finer details on this are very scant, so take it with a pinch of salt. Read up on Windows Core OS, right here.
The big graphical leap next-gen will come in the form of ray tracing, which has become popularized by NVIDIA's RTX GPU line on PC. RTX uses Microsoft's DirectX Ray Tracing API. In the simplest terms, ray tracing provides physicality to a game's 3D world, bringing more realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections. Ray tracing produces far more impressive visuals than what is possible on video game consoles today. As pioneers in the ray tracing space, Microsoft is well-placed to standardize these developer techniques and bring them to the masses with its new consoles along with its partners.
We'll also probably see Project xCloud demonstrated on stage in a bit more detail. Microsoft employees are actively using xCloud today to stream games to mobile devices and beyond, all around the world. Servers are hitting Microsoft's core territories first, namely North America and Europe, as the company begins scaling up the service. Microsoft may talk pricing, too, since xCloud isn't going to be a free service, nor is it going to give you access to your entire digital library. It will be up to developers how they want to deliver their games over xCloud − if at all. Like backward compatibility, though, it's a bit of a no-brainer, since Microsoft's tech will do all the heavy lifting.
As for new studio acquisitions, I haven't heard a sliver of credible information. There have been suggestions Microsoft may acquire Relic from Sega, to help elevate the Age of Empires franchise, but credible information I've received recently suggests that they might be building up a new studio for that instead. Rumors (likely made up) have also pointed towards a range of other independent smaller studios, including IO Interactive, Asobo Studio, and even Crytek. I haven't been able to drum up anything I'd call concrete on this front, but typically these talks are at the highest level and aren't easily leaked save for occasional instances of public company documents.
A chance to reboot Xbox with the core
A lot of the leaked "Xbox E3 plans" I've seen have contained snippets of things that I know not to be true, which has called into question the rest of the "leaks." Microsoft seems to have done a pretty good job keeping its E3 plans under wraps this year, with just over a week to go to the big day.
Microsoft managed to alienate a lot of its base in 2013 with the reveal of the OG Xbox One, $100 more expensive than the PS4 and bundled with Kinect. It also learned a lot of difficult lessons throughout the generation, with a notoriously difficult development cycle on Crackdown 3, a spree of high-profile game cancellations, and a generally unimpressive exclusive lineup throughout.
There's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft is gearing up to put Xbox back at the top of the pile, faced with tough competition in the console space from both Nintendo and Sony, and potentially powerful interventions from Tencent, Google, and Amazon on the cloud-streaming front. Microsoft cannot afford to be complacent about its library, nor can it afford to rely on third-party partners to do the heavy lifting on its platforms. What if Google starts splashing the cash to lock down streaming exclusives, Epic Games-style?
Nobody expects Microsoft to falter in the hardware or services front, but the spotlight on its unambitious exclusive content aspirations has only grown brighter among Microsoft's biggest critics. As a result, it has begun slipping into the consciousness of less-engaged gamers, too.
I expect Microsoft to continue to play it safe in terms of announcing games "too early," but if we could just see a glimpse of all of that gaming investment alongside everything we expect, I for one, would be satisfied.
Excellent and affordable Xbox accessories
Up your Xbox experience with one (or all) of these budget accessories, all of which are approved by the gamers of Windows Central.
PowerA Play & Charge Kit for Xbox One ($15 at Amazon)
This charging kit keeps your Xbox One wireless controllers juiced up, and it offers batteries for two controllers. At just $15, this is hands-down our favorite budget charging companion.
ElecGear 4 Port USB Xbox One S Hub ($19 at Amazon)
This brilliant little USB splitter hub attaches perfectly to the side of your Xbox One S console. It's ideal for use with chargers, controllers, headsets, and more.
Controller Gear stand ($13 at Amazon)
Proudly display your Xbox gamepads with this stylish and functional stand. The licensed design is minimalist and black, and it has a hidden storage compartment, making the price of $13 a real steal.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!