You never know what to expect from Microsoft when they present at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). In 2013, after announcing the Xbox One at an earlier event, they spent a lot of time focusing on the console’s media capabilities. E3 is, with a doubt, a gaming event. In fact, it’s the biggest gaming event of the year. The gaming community was quite vocal about how they felt that Microsoft wasn’t focusing enough on the gaming capabilities of the Xbox One. In 2014 Microsoft came back and focused almost exclusively on games in an effort to win back some of their former fans who may have been drifting to Sony’s PlayStation 4. Given the prior two years being so drastically different from each other we expected Microsoft’s 2015 press event to be more of a happy medium. However, this year’s event resembled last year’s far more than that of 2013.
Microsoft first big, and completely unexpected, E3 announcement was that they had found a way to bring backward compatibility to the Xbox One. That means that you’ll be able to play some of your Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One. They’ve essentially created an Xbox 360 virtual machine that can launch right into supported games. This method leads to a couple of surprising features. First, while playing an Xbox 360 game you’ll be able to play online against other Xbox 360 players. Because you’re still playing through an Xbox One you’ll still have full access to the system’s other capabilities. That means you can use voice commands, take screenshots, and more. Unfortunately you won’t be able to play every Xbox 360 game made. Currently the functionality is available to users in the Xbox Preview Program, but the supported games library only contains 28 titles. Once the feature is publicly released this fall they should support around 100 titles. They’ll release support for more games regularly.
Microsoft also announced a new premium controller. It’s called the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and offers more features than you may have ever thought possible on a game controller. The thumb sticks can be swapped out for different designs. The triggers can be modified. There are even additional paddles on the bottom of the controller. An app will allow you to save two different button configurations directly on the controller, and there’s a switch on the controller to allow you to swap between the presets quickly. It’s definitely professional-grade equipment, and it brings with it a professional price tag. You’ll be able to pick one up in October for $150.
This week Microsoft also released game streaming support for Xbox One Preview Program users. It doesn’t work in the way they had initially said that it would though. From the Xbox app on a Windows 10 machine you can select the option to stream your Xbox One console. However, instead of being presented with a list of games to stream it just mirrors the entire experience to your PC. There are good and bad things about this. On the positive side it means that you can stream almost any activity from your console to your Windows PC, even live TV. On the downside you can’t stream any video that is copy protected. The other negative is that the screen mirroring approach eliminates the most obvious use case for streaming to a PC. What we had hoped we could do is stream a gaming session to a PC while leaving the console free to use the TV functionality. However, everything that is done via the streaming session is also displayed on the TV that is connected to the Xbox.
We also got a short glimpse of the user interface changes that will be coming to the Xbox One later this year. The main focus of the changes is to make all of the ancillary activities around gaming faster. Want to create a party to game with your friends? You can now access the friends list without exiting your game or waiting for the Friends app to slowly load. They’ve also made a quickly accessible settings section that includes controls for game and chat audio level adjustments. This will really come in handy for anyone plugging a headset straight into the new controller. Microsoft is also bringing the full power of Cortana to the Xbox One. You’ll be able to perform fairly complex tasks, like recording a game clip and sharing it with your friends using just your voice through the Kinect’s microphones. You did buy a Kinect for your Xbox One right?
While some activities are definitely faster to perform in the Xbox One’s new user interface, there are some places where the new experience is taking a step back. For example, we’ve always liked the simplicity of pinning apps and games in a place that is easy and fast to get to. In the new user interface the concept of pins feels like something they just tacked on without much thought. The new user interface is probably still receiving polishing though, so hopefully some of our complaints will be addressed before it’s released.
It wouldn’t be E3 without game trailers and announcements, and Microsoft hit it out of the park in this regard. The Xbox One has the best holiday 2015 game line-up, by far, over their rivals. In addition to all of the great third-party games that will be available on multiple platforms, Microsoft has a few huge exclusives launching. In August Microsoft is releasing Gears of War Ultimate Edition. It’s a remake of the original Gears of War game that includes a lot of the enhancements that were brought to later games in the series. In September Microsoft will be launching Forza Motorsport 6. October sees the biggest release of the season with Halo 5 Guardians. In November we’ll be getting Rise of the Tomb Raider. Also exclusively launching on Xbox One this fall will be a new free-to-play first-person MOBA called Gigantic, a collection of 30 of Rare’s greatest games called Rare Replay, and Fable Legends.
We had hoped that Microsoft might announcement full DVR capabilities for the Xbox One, but they decided to keep the press event focused on games. One interesting possibility has arisen out of the Xbox 360 backward compatibility feature. If any Xbox 360 game can run in emulation on the Xbox One, couldn’t Microsoft also release the 360’s Windows Media Center Extender application in the same way? It would be great to see, and we’ve reached out to Microsoft for further comment on the possibility.
Microsoft had an extremely impressive showing at this year’s E3. With new features launching soon, and a huge slate of games, we’ll be busy gaming on the Xbox One for months to come.