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It is a truth, universally known, that Phil Spencer is a Gaming God. The man has single-handedly … well, perhaps not single-handedly … but he’s certainly been instrumental in bringing about some incredibly consumer-friendly policies at Microsoft, including Play Anywhere, Backwards Compatibility, and library continuity between platforms.

Today, he stepped it up a notch.

I think I watch the Xbox Press Conference much the same way that I watch Sony’s. I find games themselves inconsequential at these events – sure they are nice reveals and I do get excited about the odd title, but it’s the systems and services themselves which I get most excited about. Well, today, in my humble opinion, Phil delivered.

The Games

With that in mind, let me whip through the games. The standout for me was clearly From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice … which is a strange thing to say for a guy who completely and utterly sucks at Bloodborne and Dark Souls, but the trailer for this one looked … I don’t know … ‘accessible’. The trailer itself is probably designed with that in mind, but the game itself looked great. The pacing, the setting, and the variety of combat combined to offer what looks to be a nice refresh and development of the Souls‘ pedigree. It’s certainly a ‘watch this space’ title.

I feel like showing Crackdown 3 at the Xbox conference is just asking for trouble. It goes to show that even Terry Crews can’t save every franchise. Even the trailer for the game is starting to show its age … and while I’m sure it has the delightful, frolicking fun of every other futuristic sandbox with destructive physics, there’s nothing that is really holding this game up as a ‘must have’, and certainly not ‘worth the wait’.

The show concluded with Cyberpunk 2077, which was a nice artistic way to end the show, and it showed a rich, detailed world which is what we’ve come to expect from CD Projekt Red in a post-Witcher 3 world. I don’t quite have the nostalgic attachment to the Cyberpunk series that I do many other titles, but I’ll absolutely give it a go – certainly off the back of Geralt’s last adventure.

All-in-all, I was pleased to see some of these titles on the Xbox stage, but there wasn’t enough exclusivity there to get me excited. The titles that were exclusive are largely available on PC as well, and while I still remain fairly committed to the Xbox ecosystem, I can feel the PCMR pull more-and-more each time I watch a gaming press conference.

Spending Spree

Perhaps the only real moment my heart felt a flutter was when Phil Spencer started going through the list of acquisitions Microsoft have made as part of its consolidation and expansion of Microsoft Studios. In addition to announcing the creation of a new studio, ‘The Initiative’, Spencer listed off some new studios (which I, to be honest, already thought were first-party):

  • Undead Studios (State of Decay)
  • Playground Games (Forza)
  • Ninja Theory (Hellblade)
  • Compulsion Games (We Happy Few)

It’s fair to say that Microsoft will be getting some more exclusives in the coming years, though – as I say – I thought most of these studios were already first party. It’s also telling that these studios have all published titles onto Xbox already, and while they’re all ‘OK’ titles … none of them are God of War killers.

Game Pass

The big takeaway from today’s conference was that, if you have Xbox Game Pass, you are probably going to get all the benefits from the Xbox ecosystem. It seems that there are advancements in technology for the service which are coming thick-and-fast, and today’s announcements that Fallout 4, The Elder Scrolls Online and The Division are all going live on the service ‘today’ is certainly a vote of confidence.

What’s Next

Game Streaming and the new Xbox console were flat-out confirmed by Phil during the presser. Nothing concrete, and no details to announce, but he revealed that Microsoft is working on it, and that is huge. Hot off the back of EA’s reveal that they’d be doing game streaming in the near future, it seems like 2019 will be the year that everybody reveals their consumer-ready streaming service, if not beforehand.

If you were there for the games … then you probably left ‘happy’. If you were there for anything else, then you were probably more than happy. Either case, it’s not a bad outcome for the console underdog – Phil, Larry and the team should all be exceptionally happy and proud of their work.

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