After a mixed start to the year for Microsoft, there’s plenty over the course of the next two years for gamers to be excited about for the company.
Whilst it’s unknown what form that participation will be, E3 is here very soon with Microsoft confirmed to be taking part. The ESA’s event was cancelled last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and has seen plenty of issues with various companies, including Sony and EA pulling out.
In the spirit of embracing the pure hyperbole that is gaming presentations, we wonder what to expect to see, what we could possibly see and our other hopes for this year’s presentation. Of course, we won’t be commenting here on things that seem very much out of the realm of possibility. That means no Gears 6 hopes here.
Halo: Infinite Gameplay
To start, the big one.
Halo: Infinite’s rocky presentation last year has led to plenty of upheaval at 343 Industries. An underwhelming presentation graphically coupled with the concerns of multiplayer customization led to some worries from Halo fans. The subsequent delay was a huge issue for Microsoft, who launched the Xbox Series X|S with no AAA first-party exclusives to speak of.
Following on though, 343i have been increasingly transparent with their regular updates to the game’s development and those chief concerns have been abated, with the title now looking far better in plenty of updated stills via the Inside Infinite blog posts. Of course, those are just stills. Luckily, head of creative Joseph Staten did tell us in the latest blog post that “we know that game videos are worth at least 10,000 words”, explicitly hinting at gameplay for the summer.
The only question is whether the gameplay will be for the campaign already glimpsed in trailers, following Master Chief’s journey on the Zeta Halo ring, or a look at the free-to-play multiplayer portion we are yet to see in action. Either way, expect a big presence and gameplay for the latest title in the long-running series.
Psychonauts 2 Gameplay
One of the other big releases upcoming is the sequel to Double Fine’s cult classic Psychonauts. What’s been seen so far is plenty of trailers hinting at weird worlds to inhabit in various minds and Jack Black making his special guest appearance in a musical brain. It’s the usual level of playful inventiveness we expect from Double Fine, with the recent images showcasing some beautiful visual ingenuity, so the only question we need an answer to is when we’ll get access to it.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the game had already come out given the numerous release dates and delays. Currently, Psychonauts 2 is scheduled for a vague 2021 release but the game was also briefly listed on the Xbox Store, so it must be close.
What should we expect then? Well, some more gameplay would be good to see, mainly to see how the game flows in regular play. Take Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, where the extended demos have benefited in displaying its excellent moment-to-moment gameplay.
Hopefully a firm release date to accompany it will be the icing on the cake for one of the more underlooked exclusives Xbox has coming.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2
When the Xbox Series X was unveiled at the 2019 Game Awards, it came with a sneaky but welcome surprise in the form of a reveal of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. The follow-up to the original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one of Microsoft’s most highly anticipated upcoming exclusives and it’s more than likely we could see something from Ninja Theory.
What we do see remains the question. Whilst the hope is some gameplay, we do need to consider that the project is still potentially early in development, with the last we saw being their brief appearance at last year’s Xbox Games Showcase to announce Iceland as the location for the game. Coupled with COVID-19 delays that have affected many studios over the last year and their other ventures, gameplay may not be as likely.
Regardless, more details on what Senua is up to following the previous game as well as a potential release window would be great to see, even if it is far off.
The last entry in the series came about in 2017, and Turn 10 seems to have progressed in development enough to the extent that playtesters have been invited to try out and give feedback on current builds. That does seem to indicate that the folks at Turn 10 are doing well in terms of development.
Finally seeing the game in motion would be great, with the team looking to add next gen features to the ForzaTech engine including ray tracing support and providing a FM entry running in 4K at 60fps. A strong showing for Xbox’s seminal racing franchise would be a prime showcase of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
Plenty of Indies
We know the score by now when it comes to every Xbox presentation. Peppered in there will be some visually stunning indies that often get overlooked next to their AAA brethren. 2019’s E3 conference saw the marvelous Spiritfarer, one of the true hits of 2020, tasked with going on after Keanu Reeves’ appearance, giving it almost no chance to capture the attention of an audience still coming down from the movie man’s appearance at the gaming convention.
Despite this, indies should always be presented and this year is a year which will be defined by indie titles. Luckily, the recent Twitch ID@Xbox Showcase demonstrated an array of excellent games from smaller studios which you can read about more here.
In particular, The Ascent is shaping up to be a wonderful slice of cyberpunk action, Death’s Door looks like another hit from publishers Devolver Digital with its top-down action, Nobody Saves The World provides the tight gameplay and playful tone Drinkbox Studios are known for and Moonglow Bay is a relaxed fishing adventure to unwind to. All these deserve to be highlighted and, given Microsoft’s track record, we should see these and more.
Plenty of Bethesda
You may have noticed reading this that we haven’t discussed the massive element that is Bethesda. With their acquisition by Microsoft completed earlier this year, Xbox have confirmed the presentation this year will be a joint Microsoft-Bethesda conference.
Whilst this might lead to a crowded affair, Bethesda’s presence is sure to provide some intriguing notes, mainly the bizarre spectacle of timed PlayStation exclusives GhostWire: Tokyo and Deathloop from Tango Gameworks and Arkane Studios respectively being potentially present. Both look unique and potentially GOTY candidates regardless and are well worth being given a huge slot.
Beyond those, rumours abound of the new exclusive Starfield. Whilst development has been a long running process and known secret, it’s almost certain to appear here given the logo for the conference has Starfield’s iconography at its heart. What we see remains to be seen, but given Jason Schreier’s recent report that the title is scheduled for late 2022, a simple reveal trailer may suffice.
Hopefully beyond those, Bethesda have one or two surprises up their sleeves to showcase.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 Gameplay
The cult sequel to the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. remains fondly remembered for its absurd but intriguing story premise and atmosphere setting in the alternate reality version of Chernobyl. 12 Years after its latest entry, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 marks a return for the franchise with the promise of more players via Xbox Game Pass.
GSC Game World were present at the recent ID@Xbox Showcase to demonstrate some of their work, with pristine weaponry and intricate character models displayed with high-res textures. These details, whilst fascinating to observe in isolation, would be far more fascinating to see in motion.
Luckily, the recent demo did indicate that development is progressing well over at GSC Game World (hopefully without crunch). A full gameplay demo would show that definitively but would also be a great opportunity for this series to get huge attention.
State of Decay 3 Gameplay
Horror is one of the defining genres in recent memory, with Resident Evil Village and The Medium igniting big-budget interest. Amidst these sequels is State of Decay 3, the latest in Undead Labs’ zombie survival series.
This would be the first game the studio would be making since being acquired by Microsoft in 2019. Whilst State of Decay 2 remains the current supported title with an optimization for Xbox Series X|S and its Heartland expansion in 2019, the franchise now heads towards a third instalment with only a cinematic trailer featuring a zombie deer. Oh deary me.
Some hard gameplay would be welcome, mainly for us to differentiate how the new instalment will seek to properly evolve the gameplay and mechanics on its third go around.
Speaking of horror, one of the most underlooked upcoming titles is Scorn from Serbian studio Ebb Software.
Following a successful kickstarter and the announcement of exclusivity for Xbox Series X|S, Scorn’s delicious H.R. Giger-inspired architecture and visual design combines with first-person shooting to create a horror adventure that could be one of the sleeper hits of 2021. Currently, the title is scheduled for this year without a firm release date.
Scorn feels like an indie that deserves a massive showcase. Last year’s extensive gameplay trailer was full of intricate gore and a constantly foreboding atmosphere fitting for the kind of slow-paced horror and unnerving creepiness that pervades many great horrors.
A firm release date and more details would be wonderful.
Last year, Microsoft ended the Xbox Games Showcase with a teaser trailer confirming Playground Games’ open secret in the form of Fable. The IP has been through numerous troubles since the closure of Lionhead Studios and the cancellation of co-op entry Fable Legends, meaning we are now 9 years on from the previous title, the oft-forgotten Fable: The Journey. Oft-forgotten for good reason.
But here we are, with Playground in the midst of not only the critically-acclaimed Forza Horizon series but also as the custodians of one of gaming’s most storied fantasy franchises. Early signs indicate the potential is high. Playground itself has produced truly excellent precision driving blended with its hectic and high-spirited tone. The teaser indicated the classic wit the franchise possesses. Additionally, the ForzaTech Engine has been confirmed to house the next entry. All early reasons to get excited.
As for E3 2021? What we’ll see is unclear given that the project still has no release date and is only potential at this point, but it would be notable in its absence so surely there’s something to show.
Of the possibilities in this section, Perfect Dark remains the biggest unlikely, tied with Fable, but similarly the series’ comeback is one of the most important first party titles for Xbox and will hopefully bring the series into the 2020s.
Its world premiere at The Game Awards indicated a fascinating sci-fi dystopia for Joanna Dark to inhabit and a modernisation of the original titles’ stealth techniques. The Initiative has been working on the game for a while and it would be remiss to not mention that we are yet to see any pure gameplay trailers. That said, we don’t expect to see gameplay here.
However, given its status at the forefront of Microsoft’s first-party efforts, Perfect Dark would be slightly auspicious if it didn’t appear in some form at E3. Conversely, it may well be left waiting to reveal itself when the moment is opportune, like Joanna herself.
New Forza Horizon
When it comes to hopes, few are as promising as the latest entry in the Forza Horizon franchise. Forza Horizon 4 currently continues strongly but with two DLC packages already released – the last being the LEGO Speed Champions expansion in 2019 – the question remains as to what the next instalment is.
It’s safe to say there are some heavy rumours floating around. Whether it be the potential setting of Mexico touted by Jez Corden of Windows Central and Jeff Grubb of VentureBeat, or even a potential release later this year, it seems like the next instalment in Playground Games’ flagship franchise is coming sooner or later.
Whether it’d be a true surprise remains to be seen, and right now we have just speculation as opposed to hard news on the next entry. Additionally, Playground Games is just a tad busy with the aforementioned Fable. With all that said, a new Forza Horizon entry would be a tremendous surprise and a welcome new entry into one of gaming’s greatest ever racing series.
Keen eyes will have spotted that Ninja Theory haven’t just been working on Hellblade 2, but going to the company’s YouTube channel reveals that beyond the much-anticipated sequel lies a different original project in its early stages.
Earlier this year, a video details what’s currently known as Project Mara, a game set in a single apartment with the apartment being photorealistically generated from a real-world with incredible granular accuracy. Beyond the technical achievement though, a new contained IP from Ninja Theory is something to be enthusiastic about.
Like most hopes, this is very unlikely. The video from January indicates the title is still early in development so I doubt we’ll get much info here for a game which merely has a working title right now. Even then, a new IP with outstanding technology behind it from Ninja Theory is something we need to know more about. Now probably isn’t the time though.
The Artful Escape
Speaking of projects light on details right now, it feels like eons ago that we first saw Francis Vendetti platforming with electric guitar blaring and fireworks blazing in The Artful Escape. Yet here we are still light on additional details or even images.
The lack of news around the title shouldn’t be too concerning, after all the development process is a marathon, not a sprint. However, it remains one of the indie highlights of Microsoft’s recent conferences and looks like a pure visual treat with a unique gameplay hook, blending its musical character to their own environment via the medium of music.
The most recent trailer before its delay to 2021 displayed all these traits and more, with what looks to be an excellent story-driven adventure with inventive platforming. Amongst all the indies we’ll probably be seeing, this is the one I most want to know more about.
Emphasis on JRPGs
Finally, a note on JRPGs. Much has been made about Microsoft’s failings in Japan during the last generation, with its delayed releases and lack of proper localization. It’s a bizarre period given how important the country is with regards to video game history.
Now, efforts are being made to provide more titles from the country on Xbox. Take Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age, which arrived on Xbox Game Pass to add to various JRPGs like Monster Hunter: World, Kingdom Hearts III and numerous other titles heavily touted by the company along with the myriad of entries in the Yakuza series.
The region is seeing even more titles this year and these need to be highlighted, like Bandai Namco’s Tales of Arise and Scarlet Nexus, which are both out this year and could each provide focused and intriguing narratives with engaging but different combat styles. Even beyond the AAA front, titles like Astria Ascending from the Twitch ID@Xbox showcase demonstrate the vast scale of the genre and the wonderfully talented studios working on these games. Hopefully Xbox recognizes that.
So these are our expectations, maybes and hopes for Microsoft at this year’s E3 event. What are yours? Let us know in our comments!