Microsoft E3 2018: 5 best and 5 worst reveals

Microsoft's 2018 E3 press conference is in the books, and it's safe to say the Xbox platform now has a clearly defined vision for both the near and far out future. Over 50 games were shown off at the event, including a handful of Xbox-exclusive titles, third-party projects, and independent initiatives. And it appears Microsoft is investing heavily to break the Halo-Gears-Forza cycle it's been caught in — though that's not to say those monsters are going away entirely.

All in all? It was a solid showing. But not everything can be a winner. For all the impressive first-party reveals and third-party world premieres, there were some clear misses on Microsoft's stage that we can't quite get out of our heads. We've compiled a list of both the good and bad that the Xbox team put on display at E3, so if you're a fan of Xbox and didn't get to watch the conference, consider this your opportunity to catch up.

BEST: Halo is back with Halo Infinite

This October will mark three years since the release of Halo 5: Guardians. That's a really long time to go without what is undoubtedly Microsoft's biggest franchise, so E3 seemed like the perfect place to tease Master Chief's next adventure. And sure enough, that's what Microsoft did by pulling back the curtain on Halo Infinite. While the details were light in Microsoft's reveal trailer, there were a few things we could clean from the footage.

The game looks like a huge nod to the original Halo, with the trailer showing off a very similar type of world complete with obligatory Halo ring. And in a move that will surely please fans of the series, the camera caught a small glimpse of Master Chief, helmet in hand, leading us to believe that he'll take his rightful place as the protagonist of the next title. Not a single Locke in sight.

There are no finer points to add just yet. No release date is known for Halo Infinite, so we suspect this one is slated for Holiday 2019 or beyond.

WORST: Have fans cooled on PUBG?

When Microsoft nabbed PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds as a console exclusive in 2017, the move looked like a game changer. PUBG was on an absolute tear in terms of sales and popularity, and it only existed on PC. Having that kind of firepower on Xbox One seemed like a brilliant move at a time when Microsoft needed a killer app. Fast forward to E3 2018, however, and we're suddenly in a whole new world.

What looked like a PUBG clone in Fortnite: Battle Royale has actually become a worldwide phenomenon, with millions of players across PC, console, and mobile. And there are hordes of new games coming with royale-style modes, including entries from franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

Microsoft devoted some precious E3 event time to new content for PUBG, and what would have likely been a rowdy crowd last year sounded disinterested at best. That should be very troubling for those who thought PUBG would help Microsoft bridge the exclusive gap with its console counterparts.

BEST: Forza Horizon 4 looks amazing

If someone offered you a million dollars to make a correct E3 prediction, you'd be wise to check the calendar to see which Forza year it is. Forza Horizon 4 was about the least-shocking thing on stage at Microsoft's conference, but we're not sure anyone expected FH4 to look quite as good as it did.

This year's Horizon takes place in Britain, which means you're likely to get a whole lot of diversity in the game's environments. We saw rolling countrysides and city races, along with a new dynamic weather system that brings sun, rain, and snow to every track — not just those you pick up in a DLC. But perhaps the biggest step Forza Horizon 4 is taking has to do with online play. This year's entry takes place in a fully-shared world, which means all those Gamertags you see driving around on screen will be real people, not AI bots. And Horizon also teased some world events, which require players to work in tandem in order to complete a goal and unlock rewards.

We're definitely looking forward to this one.

WORST: Ubisoft's super-cheesy Division 2 demo

There are a few things we'd love for companies to stop doing at E3. For instance, trotting a celebrity on stage to blurt out a few rehearsed lines? It never seems to go over well with the audience. Giving us a live-shoutcasted match? Those in attendance can't hit mute like the folks at home can. And the cheesy multiplayer gameplay demos? They are tough to sit through because no one talks that way when they're playing.

Ubisoft definitely has us interested in The Division 2, thanks in large part to its Washington, D.C. setting. We're honestly intrigued at the prospect of gunfights outside a White House overrun with weeds. But the gameplay demo Ubisoft put on was hard to listen to. The scripted dialogue between the four-player team in the demo was cringeworthy at best, and sounded as though it was written for a CG film and not for friends who hopped online to play a game together. Most players aren't roleplaying their characters: they simply want to chit-chat and shoot some things. Write a script for that!

BEST: Gears 5 brought a twist to the franchise

Imagine the roar of a chainsaw that was almost immediately matched by the roar of a crowd. And then imagine everyone's surprise when a realistic-looking Marcus Fenix or JD Fenix isn't what bursts through, but instead, Pop! figurines of classic Gears heroes and villains. That is what Microsoft did to its fans at E3, and were it not for the fact that Gears 5 was unveiled shortly afterward, we're pretty certain there would have been riots.

Yes, the Gears franchise is getting a mobile game in Gears Pop! It's also getting a PC strategy game in Gears Tactics. But what everyone wanted to see is what came after the strange reveal of those other two titles, and that was Gears 5.

The new game in the series doesn't have a release date. We did, however, get a look at some gameplay and a small sampling of the story, which appears to star Kait from Gears of War 4. For a series known for its grit and machismo, the addition of a female lead is a pretty cool change-up, and we're interesting in learning more about that necklace.

We look forward to seeing more of Gears 5 in action.

WORST: Fast Start belongs in a press release, not on stage

Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for the work it's put into the Xbox One dashboard. Looking back on what the dashboard could do at launch, it's actually become faster and more feature-rich with time. Microsoft has saved big platform-related announcements — like backward compatibility and LFG — for E3, and they never felt out of place due to their importance. But holy smokes, Fast Start did not need to be an E3 announcement, and it went on way longer than it should have.

Fast Start is an interesting project, don't get us wrong. It uses machine learning to figure out which parts of a game people play most, and it works to install those parts first so you can start playing a download more quickly. It's basically the Xbox's "Ready to Play" feature on steroids, and while it's a nice feature addition, it really did not need several minutes of stage time at E3. Put it in a press release and give that time to another indie game!

BEST: Microsoft is adding more first-party studios

If there's one bugaboo the Xbox platform can't shake, it's the lack of exclusive titles. Microsoft has been running the same three or four franchises ad nauseam for years, and has watched Sony drop hit game after hit game without a meaningful response. At its E3 press conference, Microsoft finally did something about it by announcing five new first-party studios.

The first studio — The Initiative — is a brand new outfit helmed by former Crystal Dynamics lead Darrell Gallagher. The other four are acquisitions of existing studios: Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice)Undead Labs (the State of Decay franchise); Compulsion Games (We Happy Few); and Playground Games (the Forza series).

We already know what's on the way from Playground for the foreseeable future. Undead Labs just recently released State of Decay 2. And Compulsion Games still seems to be at work on We Happy Few (more on that later). It'll be interesting to see what Ninja Theory has up its sleeve in the years to come. One thing is for certain: more studios can only be good news for the Xbox platform.

WORST: The "meh" of We Happy Few

The story of We Happy Few is a complicated one. Its initial reveal at E3 made it look almost BioShock-like in its tone, which excited many. But the reality of the game was quite different. It was story-light and survival-heavy, and most who sampled the game in Early Access found it underwhelmingWe Happy Few eventually left Early Access to go under the knife, and what's emerged is now more in line with what players expected at the onset. It's a more narrative-driven game and the survival elements have been downplayed significantly.

The problem? None of that was evident in the game's E3 trailer. The We Happy Few shown off in 2018 looks almost identical to the one on Microsoft's E3 stage in 2016, with the same Brave-New-World-gone-wrong universe it was touting back then. It felt out of place in Microsoft's lineup of reveals, which up to that point, had been mostly solid. And it could spell trouble for the game if players are as disenchanted with it now as they were before.

BEST: Cyberpunk 2077's "glitchy" unveiling

Phil Spencer seemed to be wrapping up the Xbox E3 conference with his signature brand of optimism. He spoke about how games bring people together, let you be a hero, all of that. But right before he could wish the crowd well and close the show, something bizarre happened. The screens on stage began to glitch and the lights went dark. A DOS prompt appeared on the venue's large display, and mysterious fingers typed out the path of an executable file. And then a video played.

It was our first substantial look at CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077.

The footage didn't seem to show any gameplay, but we did get a sense of the world the game takes place in: highly futuristic with flying vehicles, droid soldiers, and loads of violence. We don't know how to describe the aesthetic other than to say "It's cyberpunk," so CD Projekt Red is on the ball in that regard. The only disappointing bit about this reveal was its lack of release date, which means we'll probably be waiting until late 2019 to get our hands on Cyberpunk 2077.

WORST: Microsoft's first-party lineup in 2018 is barren

Microsoft's future looks bright as far as the Xbox platform is concerned. Halo Infinite is in the pipeline. Gears 5 is currently being developed. There are huge games coming in Crackdown 3 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. And the company just added five new studios to pump out first-party content.

The problem? All of the games mentioned above aren't coming out in 2018. Some of them don't even have release dates, or even release windows. And new games from some of its new acquisitions won't be coming for a while.

The biggest title Microsoft has coming in 2018 is Forza Horizon 4. And while that game looks like it'll be great — as most Forza games have been — Microsoft is hurting when it comes to exclusives for the 2018 holiday season. The content problem as a whole will get worked out with time, but for fans who've been waiting years for Microsoft to get it right, 2018 looks like it's shaping up to be a disappointment.