Weekend Short-Takes: 6/13/15 (E3 Preview)




Microsoft has distinctly been playing second fiddle for the entirety of this console generation, and it's clear they wish they had a reset button that would erase all the self-inflicted damage from the last two E3's. Since that's not an option, however, the best they can do is come out swinging as hard as possible and dent as much of Sony's anticipated momentum going into this year's conference. 

It started with the announcement of the 1 TB Xbox One for $400 and a permanent price drop of the 500 GB model to $349, something that definitely should get a temporary price drop even further to $300 or bundled to make it a true no-brainer if the company is serious about regaining lost ground. This is a wash, as Sony is expected to make the same move with the PS4. Microsoft also announced a new controller that is slightly improved, most notably with a 3.5mm headphone jack for you to use any headphones, which helps them be more friendly to existing tech that customers already have. 

Regrettably, the manufacturer's outright assault on traditional co-op is not abating; Halo 5 will only have online co-op, a radical departure from the game that pioneered split-screen, further obviating the fact the console can support four controllers. Understanding how important it is, though, and bearing in mind the MCC's failure to launch, they also announced it will come with 15 DLC maps free. 

Since Microsoft is planning on making their first-party titles the focus of the show, expect to hear a lot of news pertaining to Halo 5, Forza 6, and the new Gears of War title. Rumor has it Rare will be at the show in some capacity to showcase something based on one of their old titles, so we might see a return to form from one of their games, be it Banjo-Kazooie or Battletoads. And even though this will be a first-party affair, there will be somewhat of a third-party presence: EA plans on unveiling the next PvZ Garden Warfare title, Ubisoft will be demoing The Division, and Square Enix will be showcasing Rise of the Tomb Raider. 

Also of note is the partnership with Oculus, announced before the conference even began. Xbox One controllers will be bundled with Oculus Rift headsets. Additionally, Microsoft has really tried to talk up the other "console" (PCs) that they have while facing the daunting numerical disadvantage against Sony. Windows 10 launches July 29 and is primed to immediately and automatically upgrade millions of PCs. Cross play with unified services will be critical to Microsoft's success. This, however, leaves the elephant in the room: Xbox has no reputation on PC because Microsoft completely ignored it for the better part of a decade, leaving Steam the absolutely undisputed solution for PC gamers. Given Gabe Newell's adoption of Linux for Valve's own ecosystem and hate of Windows 8, a partnership seems unlikely. It seems that outside of limited crossplay niches, Microsoft will struggle to gain traction. 


Sony has been comparatively quiet leading up to E3, no doubt due to their position as the market leader. Due to the recent delay of Uncharted 4 to next year, we can expect this year's media briefing to be focused primarily on third-party titles. We already know that EA is going to showcase Star Wars Battlefront during the briefing, so expect an exclusivity deal of some kind to go down, similar to what they did with Battlefield 3 a couple years ago. Ubisoft might show a demo of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, though they could also showcase another game they announce earlier during their press conference, similar to last year's Far Cry 4. 

Apart from that, since Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet with its Oculus partnership, expect a good chunk of the show to focus primarily on Project Morpheus, Sony's upcoming in-house virtual reality headset. As always, Bungie will be there, probably to debut footage of Destiny: The Taken King, and we might even see Treyarch debut footage of Black Ops III if recent rumors turn out to be true, along with the reported re-reveal of The Last Guardian. Moreover, things look pretty quiet on the first-party landscape for the PS4, so Sony might stick to some promise announcements for trailers and hardware, then stick largely to emphasizing both their lead and new third-party exclusive deals. 


Nintendo is in a complete holding pattern this year. They have already stated that there will be no talk about the upcoming NX console, nor will they discuss their move to finally get on smartphone platforms. Unfortunately, those are probably the two biggest news items people were expecting. So if not those two things, then what? This only leaves us with the two other possible news sources, Wii U and 3DS. No doubt Nintendo will try to downplay and distance NX from any discussion, so as to not completely cannibalize what Wii U sales there might be left in the tank. 

They have also said they will not be talking about Zelda, so it seems incredibly quiet on the software side as well. Perhaps another surprise on the level of Splatoon is in the wings, but what is clear is that this must be the strong push for the Wii U's final hurrah. Titles, services, and support should not be held back or left out, lest people think that the console has already been end-of-life'd internally already. Oh, and talking about fixing Amiibo scalping (which Jonathan has covered extensively in the past) might be a good thing to address as well. We also know that Nintendo is actively trying to establish a "third-party presence" of sorts, something which they had struggled with in the past with earlier third-party Wii U releases (for example, Mass Effect 3 on Wii U was released around the same time EA announced Mass Effect Trilogy on both Xbox 360 and PS3). 

In addition, there have been reports of leaks regarding upcoming content for Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U. According to various data miners, the next characters to appear in the game are Roy from Fire Emblem and Ryu from Street Fighter, with an assortment of Mii costumes to follow from Capcom, Sega, and Namco. Expect to hear this news come Sunday morning, and maybe even a special surprise announcement during the Nintendo World Championships in the afternoon. 


Since Activision isn't going to be holding a conference this year, we're going to see their products all over the place. Skylanders SuperChargers is confirmed to make an appearance alongside Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, the somewhat-cautious sequel that some of us are looking forward to, provided that the developer doesn't screw up the physics and gameplay. Bro shooters Call of Duty and Destiny are expected to make their usual rounds at the Microsoft & Sony press briefings alongside the FMV-filled Guitar Hero Live, but this morning we have gotten word that Activision might even bring in a new Transformers game to the show as well. Given the cel-shaded look of the screenshots we found, we also believe that this may also be Platinum's secret game that they plan on showing off on Monday. 


EA has no shortage of cool stuff to showcase at this year's conference. It will probably announce some major milestones, new games, and direction for its EA Access streaming program for Xbox One, and has plenty of games to talk about. The new Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, Star Wars Battlefront, the complete yearly refresh of all sports games, Need for Speed, and probably a few other as yet unannounced titles. They should make a strong positive showing for the new Mirror's Edge, which has rabid fans who want to make sure the minimalism and style of the original game remains in the new iteration. Likewise for Battlefront especially, whose legions of fans (us included) have been grumbling about some of the creative directions DICE have taken the game in. Oh, and don't forget Rock Band 4, because, you know, we need another rhythm game war.


Ubisoft now has a big stage again to launch some important titles, starting with Assassin's Creed Syndicate. It will be interesting to see how they differentiate it from that other Victorian-era game The Order: 1886, since they've always been closer to Sony than Microsoft. Additionally, this is their chance for redemption following the horror show that was their entry into the current-gen console space with Unity. They should show that they acknowledge the problems, thank the fans for their continued support, and have dutifully committed to providing the best experience out of the box this time around. Otherwise, there will also be the hotly anticipated Rainbow Six: Siege, and hopefully some more news about the seemingly perpetually delayed game The Division. 


Bethesda, not ones to sit on their laurels, realize that Fallout 4 is a big deal. What does that mean? Well, consider that it's been five years since the last Fallout game, New Vegas, and four years since Skyrim. People have been waiting with more than bated breath for a long time now. It had better deliver. Since it is pretty much their whole show, it's gotta be big enough to steal the show from other publishers who are rolling out entire arsenals of games. To their credit, Bethesda are not backing down; they've scheduled a press conference Sunday night, right at the start of the conference, where there will probably be much, much more about the game in-depth. While Fallout 4 will clearly highlight the show for them, don't forget they are also responsible for making the new Doom game for Id. We can also expect to hear more about their other major RPG as well, so expect to hear news regarding Elder Scrolls Online, which in this case could possibly be an expansion of some sort. And don't forget, we have been hearing rumors of something Dishonored related coming out of the woodwork, so expect news of a remaster for the PS4 and Xbox One or a sequel of some sort. 


Square Enix hasn't held a press conference since 2013, so this year, we can expect to see a show that's heavy on the Eidos front rather than focusing entirely on their Japanese divisions. We already know that Eidos Montreal will be debuting gameplay footage of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided during the event, and that we can expect Rise of the Tomb Raider to have a presence of some sort (maybe a trailer or gameplay demo, depending on what happens during the Microsoft briefing). Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XV will be a no-show, opting instead to appear later this year at GamesCom, so instead we could see some footage from the upcoming Star Ocean game on PS3 and PS4 or better yet, footage from Dragon Quest Heroes, Square's crossover game with Tecmo Koei's Musou/Warriors franchise. As for Kingdom Hearts III, we're still in the dark about the title, and we believe it may or may not show up during this conference, let alone the Sony one. Additionally, their MMO, Final Fantasy XIV, will have a separate appearance on the show floor for its upcoming expansion, Heavensward.

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