Xbox + Bethesda at E3 2021: a revolution for Microsoft

Xbox + Bethesda at E3 2021: a revolution for Microsoft

Xbox + Bethesda at E3 2021

Microsoft's work in recent years has culminated in a spectacular Xbox and Bethesda conference at E3 2021. The Redmond house has already demonstrated the value of the Game Pass to everyone, but the show has succeeded in making it even more palatable. or almost indispensable even. In doing so, Xbox also demonstrated a rich first-party line-up and swept away the discussions about its supposed cross-gen attitude, therefore not completely devoted to the potential of today's PC and console. The conference was very rich, almost too rich, so much so that some games perhaps did not have the space they deserved.

We talked about this in the last Digital Foundry Direct where I, John Linneman and Alex Battaglia chose the moments best taken from Microsoft's 90 minutes, and discussed how it was possible to compress 30 games into a not-too-long presentation, and do it profitably. Let's start with PlayGround Games' Forza Horizon 5, a title that is cross-gen in nature but that really shines on the latest PC and console hardware.

There are several things to discuss, starting from an unprecedented level of detail that reaches the individual thorns of the cacti, a dense jungle like in Crysis (complete with volumetric lighting) to reach settings wide and with extraordinary views thanks to a phenomenal draw distance. The rendering of the vehicles is clearly excellent and there is no lack of ray tracing via hardware acceleration (even if only during the Forza Vista). In short, we will talk about it again.

DF Direct in 4k talks about the Xbox / Bethesda conference with Rich Leadbetter, John Linneman and Alex Battaglia.

Watch on YouTube. And here are the precise minutes of the arguments:

00:00 Introduction 00:45 Forza Horizon 5 06:26 Halo Infinite 16:06 STALKER 2 22:44 Microsoft Flight Simulator 27:34 Starfield 35:34 Replaced 39:36 An E3 turned into a burst of trailers 42:30 Psychonauts 2 43:43 Redfall / A Plague Tale Requiem 47:09 Doom Eternal Next-Gen Upgrade with RT 49:00 Conclusion We also saw something new for Halo Infinite ... right? As per E3 tradition, much of what we saw was "in-engine", which prevents us from knowing if it was in real time (and on what hardware, if any) or pre-rendered. Actually, there's nothing wrong with making trailers like this (although it's not a route we particularly like), assuming we're talking about a title in the early stages of development. The case of Halo, however, has diveso, since the release should be only a few months away, and therefore we are a bit worried. The impression is that many of the criticisms collected during last year's gameplay reveal have been taken into account, but it was reasonable to expect something more tangible during the conference. [UPDATE: The Halo Infinite video below, uploaded after the conference, seems to show real-time gameplay instead.]

One front that Microsoft has decided to focus on, with mixed results, is clearly the acquisition of Bethesda. It all started with the first in-game trailer for Starfield, scheduled for release in late 2022 and truly splendid to watch from a technical point of view. It seems like a generational leap forward for Bethesda Game Studios, and the Creation Engine 2 has very little in common with its predecessors. In fact, it seems that this is a clean break with the past, in opposition to the iterations we used to see in the transition from Gamebryo to Creation Engine. The quality of assets and shading, the presence of ray tracing and a more realistic rendering of the characters contribute to increase our desire to know more.

For an in-game trailer, very little is seen in this reveal of Starfield. On the technical front, however, the leap forward is undeniable.

Watch on YouTube. Even the generous trailer for Stalker 2 suggests a top-of-the-line experience, flanked by the recommended specs that call for an 8-core CPU and a GTX 1080 Ti to play at 1080p60, while on consoles (including Series X) the target is 30fps. Announced as the Unreal Engine 4 title, it was still able to impress with fantastic art direction, beautiful rendering of the settings (and characters down to their hair) and ray traced reflections and shadows. Will this really be the level of gameplay? We will see, but the expectations are there.

The suspicion is that many of the games seen ran on super-pumped PCs or at least were "in-engine" sequences, but knowing that the Microsoft Flight Simulator video ran on Xbox Series X instead bodes well, given the level reached on the console by one of the heaviest games ever developed.

On PC we have explored this flight simulator far and wide and we know that on the graphic front there is no shortage of possibilities to scale it, thanks also to its temporal anti-aliasing which does a great job of upscaling up to 4K . That said, the DX11 version of Flight Simulator for now has some obvious CPU-side stutters probably related to streaming world details. If this problem has been solved, or at least reduced, on consoles, the hope is that the optimization will also arrive on PC. Easy to say: what we've seen is a true next-gen experience that we can't wait to try on Microsoft consoles, and it shouldn't be missing that much.

Introducing Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X. Gorgeous.

Watch on YouTube. Another of the most interesting things, in our opinion, was not particularly detailed during the conference: the DOOM Eternal next-gen upgrade for Xbox Series / PS5, with ray traced reflections at 4K (or 120Hz without RT and at lower resolution). . We know that id Software has invested time and resources to make ray tracing work (and the potential of next-gen in general), so expectations are very high (even the PC RTX trailer is truly remarkable). Equally interesting are the 120Hz mode specs, where Series X hits 1800p while PS5 hits 1584p. It will be very interesting to put both of them to the test, and we expect to see dynamic resolution at work.

To find a critique of the event, this would be directed towards the barrage of trailers that were presented to us, probably with the aim of demonstrating how rich the Game Pass is. This approach has succeeded in intent, the Game Pass comes out brilliant, but on the other hand it was difficult to understand what we were looking at at times, and a few more explanations would not have hurt.

Of course, Microsoft will not stop with communication, but a voiceover (as happens in Nintendo Direct) would have kept the attention high and contextualized the games better. Instead, for how the aforementioned burst was set up, only the most visually spectacular games managed to remain impressed, and we think of The Ascent, Psychonauts 2 and above all Replaced, a game that seems to combine a 2D aesthetic with three-dimensional backgrounds (perhaps thanks to voxel).

Here is the Halo Infinite video apparently in real time, as opposed to the one shown at the conference.

Watch on YouTube. The most read now

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Net of this mole, the Microsoft show showed several very interesting games from a technical point of view and, in general, convinced us. The impression is that Microsoft still has a few tricks up its sleeve, and we think of Forza Motorsport, The Elder Scrolls 6, Perfect Dark, Avowed, Hellblade 2, Fable and Everwild that we know exist, but that we haven't seen. The conference was closed by Redfall, a new game by Arkane Austin (authors of the brilliant Prey and with a respectable portfolio), which however showed itself in a CG trailer without much context that prevented us from understanding what differentiates it. from many other co-op shooters. What makes it an Arkane title? This is what we want to know. Outer Worlds 2 also left us with a lot of question marks as we didn't see anything of the game, but at least the trailer didn't hide it and snatched a smile with its awareness.

Ah, right, there is also the Xbox Mini Fridge. Excellent idea to exploit the media buzz born with the presentation of the Series X form to launch this unlikely hardware. Is a console-shaped mini fridge a useful item? Of course not. Are we intrigued and still want to know more? Of course yes.

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