What else can we realistically expect, and when exactly does the event go live?
Here's everything we've heard, and everything we expect to see so far, including that pesky show date.
What games can we expect?
Well first and foremost, it is confirmed that we'll see the debut of Halo Infinite's gameplay, finally lifting the veil off of the mysterious cross-gen instalment of Microsoft's flagship franchise. Microsoft recently started teasing the game through audio dialogue, which seems to confirm Halo Wars 2 faction "The Banished" will play a central role. Although details are vague about what Halo Infinite will actually be like, I've only ever heard positive impressions from trusted sources who have seen the gameplay footage tipped to be shown off in July, which has already been recorded. This could be the leap the franchise desperately needs, after the lukewarm response to Halo 5.
Beyond Halo Infinite, we've heard that The Initiative may be rolling up to showcase their game, after a few years in secrecy. Microsoft's new Santa Monica studio boasts some incredibly impressive industry talent, including the writer of Red Dead Redemption, and the level designer from God of War, led by former Tomb Raider boss Darrel Gallagher. What this all-star developer is working on is anyone's guess at this point, but much like the Halo footage, we've been told to expect great things from this studio.
What about Fable? Playground Games' long-rumored RPG is supposedly Fable, as we've been hearing for what feels like years at this point. Recently, eagle-eyed Twitter fans noticed an account, registered in March, @Fable, with the display name "Placeholder." Microsoft marketing guru Aaron Greenberg claimed that it was simply a placeholder account "dormant for years," which is an odd statement to make given that it was very visibly registered in March 2020.
The similar PerfectDarkGame account was confirmed to be fan-made, but the Fable account seems to be very much official. We've heard from multiple sources alongside various other major outlets that Playground Games is working on Fable. Whether or not that is ready to be revealed in July slips down in likelihood, with Aaron Greenberg trying to manage expectations, but there's still a chance we could see it.
We know that the event won't just be a first-party affair. Third-party developers will also show off some aspects of their upcoming games. I expect some of these trailers will showcase gameplay rather than highly choreographed sequences this time, owing to feedback from the mixed reception of Microsoft's May 2020 event.
You can also realistically expect to see updates from various known upcoming Xbox Game Studios titles, including Grounded, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Wasteland 3, and hopefully Age of Empires IV. It may still be too early for Forza to show off gameplay in-detail, but we may get a sizzling teaser showing what the next-gen Forza Motorsport will look like with Xbox Series X graphics.
When will the Xbox July event be?
Microsoft thus far hasn't given a timeline for the July event, but multiple sources with knowledge of Microsoft's plans suggest that it will fall around the week of July 20.
I have seen some suggestions that it may have been originally planned for earlier in the month, but our current information suggests that it will go live a little later on at least as of writing. I think it's safe to expect it on a weekday as well, rather than the weekend, making it anywhere between July 20 and July 25. Of course, plans can shift and change, especially given what's going on in the world right now, but this is our best information as of writing.
Hardware? Xbox Series S "Lockhart?"
Will there be hardware at the July event? I haven't heard any rumors that we could see the Xbox Series "S" codenamed "Lockhart" at this particular event, although more testing units are heading out to internal staff at Microsoft. The Xbox "Lockhart" console is expected to be a 4TF variant of the 12TF Xbox Series X, with less raw graphics power targeted at 1080p TVs and monitors, in exchange for a lower price.
We're also expecting Lockhart to be disc-less, while matching the Xbox Series X on CPU and SSD power, with some next-gen features albeit at a lower resolution. Some developers are able to target Lockhart right now as of writing, and games built for Microsoft's next-gen developer environment dubbed "GameCore" will have an even more streamlined platform for building Xbox games for multiple SKUs, with minimal changes required. There's a slim chance it could appear in July, but I really feel that Microsoft will wait until they can reliably talk about price before outing Lockhart, since the price point will form a large part of its marketing.
Bangs and Olufson recently revealed they were working on audio accessories for Xbox, which could also appear at the event. They may also be working on the next-gen Xbox headset I've heard about previously. I think Microsoft will want to keep this event firmly focused on games, though, but we'll have to wait and see.
Another opportunity to nail it
Microsoft's May event for the Xbox Series X had some solid content, but mismanaged expectations ultimately led to disappointment, coupled with some of the challenges faced by a workforce required to work from home right now, owing to the global pandemic. Microsoft will no doubt have absorbed feedback from that event, and will put that effort forward into the July showcase.
Microsoft has potentially already nailed the hardware, with a console that is not only more powerful than the PlayStation 5, but also smaller. Price wars will no doubt come next, but none of this matters without the games. Microsoft has been on the backfoot in this area for quite a while, as Sony pumped out acclaimed titles like Spider-man, God of War, and the Last of Us 2, Microsoft had a fair share of disappointments, with titles like Crackdown 3, and the canceled Scalebound.
In July, Microsoft has an opportunity to show confidence in its first-party roadmap that boasts more studios and more investment than ever. Hopefully, finally, the wait will be over, and speculation and patience can turn into excitement, as Microsoft presses ahead into next-gen. We can't wait.