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Big 3 at E3 2018: Will Halo, Gears of War, or Another IP Come To Play for Xbox?

Microsoft's E3 2018 offerings are the most unpredictable in the industry, partly because we have no idea what the heck is even available to predict. We take a shot at it anyway in this preview.

You might not have heard of it, but next week is the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short. This annual event is the Super Bowl of video games, the place where the entire industry gathers to talk about what’s coming up for the next year or so. Needless to say, the hype around this event is palpable, whether you’re in attendance or watching from home.

E3 2018 is particularly interesting in that there’s so much we still don’t know, despite everything that’s been leaked or rumored so far. Every day brings with it new thoughts and predictions and spoilers, which makes actually predicting the event so dang interesting. I’m going to do my best to predict the Big Three (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo) and guess just what the heck is going to go down next week. This time we're looking at Microsoft and Xbox, the Master Chief's turf. 

Ok Microsoft, let’s talk. It’s E3 time again and everyone in the gaming world is chomping at the bit to see what the industry has to offer, you included. Your competition, unlike you, has laid out at least some idea of what they’re going to be talking about next week. Sony’s focusing on four massive single-player offerings, while Nintendo is dropping some major multiplayer games. When I think about “Microsoft at E3 2018” I got nothing, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Let’s quickly recap last year first: the Xbox One X featured heavily into your presentation as you announced 42 games and 22 exclusives on your stage. You announced original Xbox backward compatibility (cool!), you showed off how pretty Forza looks on Xbox One X (neat!) and then the first big surprise: Metro Exodus, which is not an exclusive. PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds and State of Decay 2 were good multiplayer exclusive gets, while Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Cuphead’s release date satiated the speedrunning crowd.

After that? Sea of Thieves launched with minimal content and less fanfare, and while that’s being fixed, the damage could already be done. Crackdown 3 still isn’t out in the wild, leaving me to ponder whether that game will actually see the light of day or join Scalebound in the morgue. The final game of the Xbox conference, the last image we have of the Microsoft E3 briefing, was a third-party game in Anthem, BioWare’s impressive looking team-based adventure. The demo we got was cool, but immediately a red flag went up.

If I’m planning an E3 media briefing for one of the Big Three (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo), two spots on the lineup are sacred, designated for first party games only: the very first and very last announcements. Perhaps in a weird year the first announcement is negotiable, but the final announcement of the show needs to be first party only. Otherwise the big publisher spent a bunch of money promoting a whole lineup of games, but the lasting image is another company’s game.

Think of an E3 briefing as a UFC fight card or WWE pay-per-view. There’s a schedule of matches, and they enter the arena based on how much build they’re given before the event. This Saturday’s UFC 225 event is a prime example: the last match (or “main event”) is a Middleweight title fight, which absolutely belongs. The opening fight on the main card, however, is a matchup between two 0-1 fighters. That seems off until you learn one of them is Phil “CM Punk” Brooks and all of the hype that surrounds him, and suddenly his bout opening the fight makes sense. Hype in the beginning, cool down leading up to the main fight, main fight brings the hype again, and you’re out. E3 briefings should work the same way.

Last year wasn’t the first time Microsoft went bass-ackwards either, starting the E3 2012 briefing with a Halo 4 demo before ending it with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. What’s more frustrating is they know how to do it right also: E3 2015 starting with Halo 5: Guardians and finishing with the first reveal of Gears of War 4. House Xbox knows what to do, they just have to execute! However, Anthem ending the 2017 briefing -- the same briefing where the highly touted Xbox One X was detailed -- makes me wonder just what’s going on in the company’s first party studios.  

Despite all of this chagrin, Microsoft could (emphasis on could) be gearing up for one fantastic rope-a-dope situation, where the gaming world tunes into the 2018 briefing with little expectation and gets knocked out of their chairs. There could be hidden projects for days that we don’t even know about, some rumored like the trio of Gears of War games that are supposedly in the works (including one being a battle royale!), to the highly requested like the return of Fable. Will Crackdown 3 make a triumphant return? Are there any new IPs waiting in the wings? Biggest of all perhaps is Halo, who has been conspicuously absent since Guardians aside from Halo Wars 2 in early 2017. It’s high time the Master Chief re-appears, if you ask me.

Here’s how I would frame Microsoft’s show: start with a brand new game, the first reveal of something fresh, even if it isn’t their own. Instant punch in the mouth to get the crowd going and the blood flowing. I’d like it to be a first party game, but if Ubisoft wants to lend Xbox its Splinter Cell debut (a la Blacklist also in 2012) or another company wants to jump in that’s fine. It must be a brand new game though, it cannot be something we already know about.

After that have Phil Spencer come out after that to address the crowd, maybe announce some system-based things like new original Xbox games coming to Backward Compatibility or something like that, then I don’t want to see him again until before the last announcement. Think about what has made Sony’s conferences so dang cool the last two years: announcement after announcement after announcement with little to no interruption. Microsoft had a little bit of this with last year’s show, but a lot of those 42 games were packaged in sizzle trailers with other games. No dice. I’m not saying no guests on stage -- Sony 2016 did have Kojima after all -- but I want this year to have the least amount of talking an E3 briefing has ever had. I like you Phil, I think you’ve done a banger of a job at Xbox, but this year I want to see less of you.

Of the three major publishers that attend E3 every year, Microsoft has the least hype going into the show. It’s the perfect time to gain some points with the public by holding nothing back. Xbox, and more importantly its fan base, will be better off for it.

That’s a rundown of what I think is coming next week at the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Even with the rumors and leaks and retailers gone rogue there’s still plenty of things to speculate on, to wonder about, and to predict as the show inches closer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be a gamer, so sit back and let the E3 news tsunami wash over you. If you want more of our prophesizing powers, check out our thoughts on Sony's and Nintendo's shows. 

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