By Zane Bhansali
Microsoft has started off E3 with a bang. Sony's marked absence from the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo this year left the Xbox maker an open stage to deliver huge announcements, including reveals of their next console codenamed Project Scarlett, a release date for their upcoming game streaming service, xCloud, and a bevy of trailers for some of next year's most anticipated games.
While Sony had already divulged specifications for their upcoming next-generation console back in April, Microsoft had remained tight-lipped on the details of their own upcoming device until the expo. Their press conference finally gave clamoring fans an idea of what to expect for the next-generation Xbox console, which Microsoft says will be "a bigger leap than any generation we've done before."
Among the announced features for Project Scarlett are 8K graphics support, SSD storage, ray-tracing, and framerates of up to 120fps. Microsoft also placed special emphasis on the upcoming console's custom-designed processor, which they say is four times more powerful based on processing power alone than their current high-end console, the Xbox One X. According to Microsoft, this new processor combined with the console's SSD should boost performance by 40x, drastically reducing load times.
Many of the same upgrades that Microsoft revealed so far were also teased as part of Sony's upcoming PlayStation 5, including the 8K graphics, full backwards compatibility, SSD storage, 120Hz refresh rate, and ray-tracing. Sony is similarly emphasizing load times, with a demonstration of remarkably improved speed having been shown in May. The PS5's expected arrival around holiday 2020 also lines up with the revealed target release date for Project Scarlett.
One feature that may set the Xbox apart in the next-generation console war is the advent of its cloud gaming service xCloud. After being revealed last year, xCloud finally received a release date of October, just before the launch of its primary competitor, Google's Stadia, which will start up in November.
Microsoft additionally disclosed a revamped version of its popular Elite controller featuring new interchangeable components and adjustable-tension thumbsticks.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for Project Scarlett so far, however, was a new trailer for the highly-anticipated "Halo Infinite," which will release late next year as a launch title with the new console.
Microsoft also revealed a new trailer for "Gears of War 5" along with a release date of September 10 this year and teased games including Obsidian's "Fallout"-style sci-fi game "The Outer Worlds," a surprise "Blair Witch Project" game, a 4v4 team fighter action game from Ninja Theory called "Bleeding Edge," and the return of the storied "Flight Simulator" series, which will launch on PC next year.
Two trailers, however, stole the show above all else. First was "Elden Ring," a game which has drawn exorbitant amounts of hype less for what little content we know of it and more for its superstar creative team: a collaboration between "Game of Thrones" creator George R.R. Martin and "Dark Souls" masterminds FromSoftware.
Then, the biggest moment of the night, however, went to CD Projekt Red's "Cyberpunk 2077," whose slick neo-noir trailer would have stunned in its own right without the additional sucker punch reveal of Keanu Reeves as one of its starring characters. Reeves's surprise appearance on-stage afterwards, in which he promised a free copy of the game to a fan who called him 'breathtaking' and then proceeded to tell the entire audience they were breathtaking as well, drove the crowd to hysterics — and was just the latest chapter in the "John Wick" star's ever-growing legend.
Microsoft capped off its keynote with the announcements that popular indie developer Double Fine would be joining the Microsoft Studios team and that MMO "Phantasy Star Online 2," hugely popular in Japan since its 2012 release, would finally be coming to western shores next year. For a company that has previously been panned for its E3 presentations, it's safe to say Microsoft is happy with Sunday's press conference — but it's only just the start of this year's announcements at E3.
With Sony absent, all eyes will be on Tuesday's Nintendo Direct, where fans expect the announcement of a new fighter for "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" and news of the highly-anticipated next entry in the "Animal Crossing" series. Other biggest announcements are expected Monday from Ubisoft and Square Enix, two heavy-hitting publishers whose keynotes fans eagerly await every year.
Ubisoft fans will be expecting additional details on the recently-announced "Watch Dogs Legion", the third game in the open-world, hacker series, which will be set in a post-Brexit London. Square Enix, meanwhile, already gave fans a taste of what they can expect by announcing a March 2020 release date for their long-awaited "Final Fantasy VII" remake. Viewers from home can also expect announcements out of Monday's PC Gaming Show.