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Everything Microsoft announced at E3 2016: Xbox One S, software updates, games

E3 2016 is in full swing, and Microsoft just delivered one of the most exciting, feature-laden showcases in recent memory. Microsoft’s dedication to cross-platform play via the new Xbox Play Anywhere initiative stood out among a veritable smorgasbord of trailers and gameplay demos, and the announcement of two powerful new Xbox One console versions reinforced the company’s support for the game development community.

Meanwhile, we were treated to extended looks at a slew of Xbox/Windows exclusives, from pirate adventure Sea of Thieves to zombie survival games State of Decay 2 and Dead Rising 4. Below, we’ve put together a brief overview of everything you might have missed from Microsoft’s E3 press conference.

Hardware and software

Xbox One S

Microsoft opened its conference with a bang, as Xbox head Phil Spencer took to the stage and revealed the Xbox One S. Clad largely in white, the console boasts an integrated power supply and up to 2TB of hard-drive storage while taking up a fraction of the space occupied by the original Xbox One. The S supports HDR gaming and 4K ultra-HD video streaming capabilities, and the updated controller features a textured grip and Bluetooth connectivity. Just $299 will net you one of these babies upon release in August, though it appears there will be multiple models of the S available for purchase.

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Project Scorpio

If Microsoft opened its showcase with style (the Xbox One S), it most certainly closed with power. Project Scorpio, the code name for next year’s Xbox console, boasts some pretty incredible specifications — in fact, were it to be released today, it would ostensibly be the most powerful gaming console ever created. Powered by a six-teraflop GPU that enables the system to run games in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, the console will launch with native VR compatibility.

Spencer and company were adamant about the idea of “gaming beyond generations,” a tagline that seems to imply that the future of gaming lies in semi-annual hardware updates rather than traditional six-to-eight year console life spans. In layman’s terms, we’re likely to see a future where Microsoft introduces a new Xbox just as often as Apple rolls out a new iPhone. Gamers should be happy, then, that their libraries won’t become instantly obsolete with the release of a new console — though, with a vague “Holiday 2017” release window, we’re not sure exactly when Project Scorpio will actually see daylight.

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Xbox Design Lab

Starting from $80, gamers can now build their own officially licensed Xbox One controllers. Customizable from the top down, each part of the controller — the joysticks, the triggers, the face buttons — can be a different color, selected from dozens of different hues. Players can even choose to have a short message (or, more likely, their Gamertag) laser engraved on the face of the controller.

Xbox One Software Updates

Along with the forthcoming console updates, the Xbox team announced a few new features that will be added to Xbox Live in the coming months. Microsoft’s Cortana AI will take the place of Xbox’s native voice control system and link with any other Microsoft devices you may have.

Looking For Group is a feature that many gamers should appreciate, giving players an in-house method of finding like-minded teammates for cooperative play.

Xbox Live Clubs allows players to come together and celebrate their mutual interests, and can function as a tool to find friends online as well.

Finally, Xbox Live Arena is a tournament platform that Microsoft and third-party developers will be using to create large-scale gaming competitions and find out who truly is the best of the best. EA Sports was announced to have a partnership with Xbox Live Arena beginning in the fall. We expect many rabid FIFA players to sign up, only to immediately fake an injury and withdraw from the match.

Gears of War 4

It came as no surprise that Gears 4 was the first game to grace the stage during Microsoft’s E3 conference. Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson showcased the cinematic, brutal nature of the game with a live demo featuring destructible cover, knife executions, and even a brief cameo by Marcus Fenix, the star of the original Gears trilogy — and the father of the sequel’s main protagonist. Microsoft wasn’t shy about Gears’ inclusion in the Play Anywhere program or its status as an Xbox/Windows 10 exclusive, and gamers should be excited about the return of Horde mode. The game is scheduled for release on October 11. Microsoft also announced a Gears-themed Xbox One controller, and revealed the inclusion of Gears villain General RAAM as a playable character in the third season of Killer Instinct.

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Forza Horizon 3

The pinpoint precision and graphical fidelity of the Forza series comes to the arcade-friendly Australian outback in Forza Horizon 3, the co-op heavy ninth installment in the Xbox-exclusive racing series. The third Horizon entry, from Playground Games, lets players explore the vast natural beauty Down Under with up to three friends, and features seamless drop-in integration that puts players on the same server with no load screens to be found. Due out September 27, Horizon 3 introduces several new types of vehicles to brave the harsh, diverse Australian terrain.

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The massive, four-player co-op boss fight shown in the Scalebound demo is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Though the gameplay looks a little unpolished, the scale of the battle was enormous, and the dragon-riding mechanics look awesome. The game has a strong JRPG-esque art style, and we expect it’ll be a unique experience (at the very least) when it’s released in 2017.

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Final Fantasy XV

The Final Fantasy XV gameplay demo featured protagonist Noctis locked in a fight against a humongous titan, while another battle rages on around him. Much of the fight seemed to take place via quick-time events that play out in real time, rather than interactive cutscenes. There doesn’t seem to be much to cull from the hectic fray that Square Enix put on display, other than the fact that the graphics look absolutely gorgeous.

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Tekken 7

Bandai-Namco came to play at this year’s E3, showing off a spectacular battle between Akuma and Heihachi in the absolutely gorgeous Tekken 7. Featuring a single-player campaign that seamlessly weaves between cutscenes and actual fighting, the newest edition of the classic arcade fighter is slated for release in early 2017.

Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 was the final game to be featured Microsoft’s E3 showcase, combining stunning prerendered cinematics with a few choice tastes of actual gameplay footage. The game continues the story from 2009’s Halo Wars, following the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire as they battle Covenant forces on the Ark. The game, from Total War developer Creative Assembly, is set for a February 2017 release, and promises to bring large-scale, real-time strategy battles to the Xbox One and Windows 10.

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Dead Rising 4

Though Microsoft didn’t dedicate too much time to Dead Rising 4, it’s clear that the series is only going to get bigger, badder, and more ridiculous. A quick gameplay trailer showed protagonist Frank West (yes, the same Frank West from the original Dead Rising) demolishing, destroying, and dismembering hordes of zombies in style. New weapons and vehicles were on display, and one clip even showed Frank wearing a Dead Space-esque exo suit and ripping a zombie in half with his bare hands. Awesome.

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Sea of Thieves

It’s taken some time for Rare’s upcoming Sea of Thieves to find its sea legs, but E3 finally saw the swashbuckling adventure set sail. An all-new gameplay trailer pitted three crews of newbie pirates against one another in a race for oceanic supremacy, and we got to watch the learning process firsthand as the crews came together to drop the sails, catch the wind, and drink themselves silly on grog — or was it rum? The seaborne battles appear to take multiplayer action to a new level, as players must rush to seal off the holes that are being blasted into their hull by other players’ cannons. The brief demonstration didn’t go into much depth regarding the game’s exploration and/or RPG elements, so we think it’s safe to say Thieves has a lot more hiding below deck.

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The cartoonish platforming of ReCore, from Comcept and Armature Studios, stood out among a sea of thematically dark games on Monday. Player character Joule scavenges scrap in a desert wasteland (think The Force Awaekns‘ Rey), accompanied by a robotic power core that can fit into several different types of robotic frames: doglike Mack (“the explorer”), spidery Seth (“the escape artist”), and brutish Duncan (“the heavy hitter”). Each of these companions offers different functionality to Joule, creating a deep platforming experience that’s reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank or Jak and Daxter, except with less firepower. Featuring dynamic landscapes that change as vicious sandstorms roll through, ReCore is due out September 13.

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State of Decay 2

A brief look at State of Decay 2 seemed to confirm rumors that the zombie-horror-survival sequel would focus on cooperative multiplayer, with the slogan “nobody survives alone” appearing at the end of the trailer. Though details were scarce, the game — to be released in 2017 — looks to include multiplayer settlements of some kind.

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We Happy Few

In order to promote ID@Xbox, its independent game-development program that allows devs to self-publish games on Xbox One and Windows 10, Microsoft needed an indie game to show off. In the end, the over-the-top dystopian survival thriller We Happy Few got the call. Reminiscent of the Bioshock series, the We Happy Few trailer features the player character choosing not to swallow his “Joy” medication pills, which results in a rather ominous birthday party — what kind of adult party has a piñata sitting on a table? — turning into a rat-bashing nightmare policed by creepy, white-masked security guards. The game will be available on Xbox Preview beginning July 26.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

On the heels of smash success The Witcher 3, Polish development team CJ Projekt Red received thousands of requests to turn gambling minigame Gwent into a standalone title. They decided to do just that, building a full-fledged single player campaign, redesigning the interface, and introducing new cards and rules to the card game. A closed beta, which players can sign up for here, launches in September.

Minecraft Realms: The Friendly Update

Everybody’s favorite … uh … construction simulator(?) is getting a multiplayer-centric makeover. Minecraft Realms will allow players across Xbox One, Windows 10, iOS, and Android operating systems to play together on cross-platform servers. Players will be able to access friends’ servers even when those friends are offline, allowing for a greater level of cooperative world-building than ever before. Realms figures to release sometime in 2017, while a series of updates this fall will add several texture packs to the mobile platforms.

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Nick Hastings
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