Microsoft Opens E3 With a Final Fantasy Bang

First off my sincere my apologies. This entire day didn’t go as planned from wifi failing about the MS press briefing to my camera dying during the EA press conference. I know most of this info is already out there but I’ll use this as a space to sort of give the live feeling of the announcements from within the press briefing. I have to say a few days back I wrote an article blasting Microsoft for what looked like total complacency. I guess it was just strange to actually have good to awesome news regarding the Xbox 360 held a secret for once sans leak. The first shot above you shows what the West Hall of the LACC was transformed into for the event. I have to say this year’s press conference easily blew away last year’s in terms of announcements and surprises. But onto the show itself…

You knew something big was up when the tone of the show was set by stuff I had expected to probably see last. The big holiday lineup for 2008 is what surprisingly led off the show started out by Fallout 3 which in typical Bethesda form looked unbelievable. A lot of it from the visuals to the character models looked like one massive Oblivion mod but seeing as how that is one of my favorite RPGs of all time I will take it in spades. 100 hours of game play in a post apocalyptic Washington DC, we’ll take it.

The PIP BOY 300 in the field is astonishingly futuresque and a great way to keep everything in game in order without a clunky inventory system. But besides that the combat which screamed the beautiful melding of real time and semi turn based ala KOTOR is what really got me excited. The game play in Fallout 3 is based entirely on well placed shots to cause damage and the ability to pause a fight and target a specific region is incredible. The weapons shown were also incredible, especially the fatman which appeared to just be a sort of RPG except the explosions were a lot bigger than you’d expect.

Next up went Resident Evil 5 which is now the 2nd E3 in a row we’ve heard about this game. What was revealed were two things. First, a simultaneous worldwide release on Friday March 13 2009 which is huge considering this used to a Playstation franchise. Second, coop play over Xbox live which is obviously a huge feature. The coop that was demo’d was sick by having your partner give you a huge jumping boost to jump across a building.

Next on stage was Lionhead’s very own and personal favorite of 2Op Peter Molyneux. A opening video of Fable 2 was shown which was posted a few months back on this site from the MS Showcase day. The important points of the presentation were that Fable 2 was complete and slated for an October release. Also finally, online coop over Xbox live was confirmed even though in private this has been confirmed many times before. The coop in Fable 2 will be of the now popular seamless variety minus any lobbies.

Cliff from Epic followed Peter Molyneux with a demo of Gears of War 2. A never before seen level. Remember this quote tomorrow from Cliff, “Gears of War 2 will be the most anticipated title this holiday on any console”. I don’t doubt him, but those are lofty words. We once again saw the ability to use locusts as human shields and the overall feel of Gears 2 looks and feels much more epic to the audience. The Unreal 3 engine renders outdoor environments extremely well as displayed in the demo. Some of the ooo and aaahs occurred when Dom took control of a gatling gun and mowed down oncoming horde and also when the game foreshadowed the Brumak as a drivable vehicle. November 7th, 2008 is when this one will hit the shelves.

Don Mattrick stepped on stage after the Gears 2 presentation and started showing graphs and guaranteed that the Xbox 360 would outsell the PS3 this generation. John Schappert then got on stage to start discussing Xbox live. Did you know Xbox live has a new member added to the 12 million user install base every 5 seconds? Pretty daunting and incredible numbers.

Schappert quickly changed the subject to the dashboard and a redesign including the avatars was revealed. I’ll give MS the new dashboard is slick and I do like the way the avatars are incorporated in a not so heavy handed fashion. Also, group chat and group gameplay across games as well as the ability to share photos together was added to Xbox live. Finally, a lot of the final features we had been waiting for out of the Xbox live team are now confirmed to be coming this fall.

New video marketplace partners were also added such as NBC and Universal pictures which finally means I can download episodes of The Office off of Xbox live! A few new XBLA titles were announced such as UNO Rush and Galaga Legends which look cool. But the biggest arcade announcements of the day came when Portal’s own GLADoS announced a new Portal over Xbox live this October. That wasn’t all, a South Park game is also headed to Xbox live. The transition to minor games and not so much the same style of game play over and over again is finally upon us in the live arcade.

On the video marketplace front the integration of Netflix this fall was a massive trojan horse. If you’re an Xbox live and Netflix subscriber you now have instant access to 10,000 movies and TV shows through your console. Two popular online services merging in this fashion to make things more accessible to the couch is never a bad thing.

After being unable to take many more announcements in such a short span of time it was time for the head of Harmonix to hop on stage and confirm the total track listing for Rock Band 2 which made me salivate.

The final highlight and biggest surprise of all at this year’s press briefing was the slew of JRPGs headed for the Xbox 360. Microsoft never seems to give it a rest on this front. After about ten minutes of games I wasn’t all that interested and seemingly the end of the show. Square Enix’s headman headed back onto the stage and interrupted Mattrick was the announcement that in 2009 Final Fantasy XIII would be released simultaneously to the Xbox 360 and other consoles. What you see above and below were a few screens from the video shown at the end of the amazing press conference.

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