Impression from the July Xbox Games Showcase

To start things off, I am going to say that I am a massive Xbox fan so this impressions may have a little fanboy in it (and I do not apologize for that one bit) but the July 2020 Xbox Games Showcase was what I was expecting and I was not disappointed overall with what I saw and am looking forward to playing these games on my Xbox Series X console and PC in the future. I’ll break down the games that I am looking forward to the most below but the TL;DR is that Halo looked fine, there were so many games coming day one to Xbox Game Pass, and plenty of the titles shown here are not going to be ready for 2020, 2021, or even perhaps 2022 which is a little disappointing. The full showcase can be seen here in 4K 60fps.

Halo Infinite – the Chief is back baby

Along with being a massive Xbox fan I am a massive Halo fan. I have played all the Halo games and completed them all on Legendary difficulty. From what I saw from Halo Infinite I am pleased, and cautiously optimisitc.

Visually the game does not look too bad; but I was expecting a little higher fidelity, especially from a first party title. There were a couple of draw distance issues where noticable pop in was present, some of the shadows in the pelican had jagged edges and were not as clear and crisp in the outdoor environment, and some of the textures looked a little low resolution or lacking in detail such as the flat nature of the assault rifle or the hexagonal prisim environmental structures on the Halo ring. In saying that though, this is obviously a work in progress build and most likely a cut from not the most up to date build. Hoping that visually we see some improvements before the game is released in holiday 2020. So I cannot be too critical but will still call it out.

From an audio perspective, the game sounded like a Halo game. The music was Halo, the guns were Halo, it felt very Halo. I was fairly happy with how 343 managed to capture the “feel” of Halo through not just the musical score but the Grunts, Brutes and Elites voices and audio cues. If the rest of the game sounds much like what the gameplayed showed us then my ears will be happy.

The gameplay that they showed (and I am so happy that they showed us a solid 8 minutes of gameplay) was also what I was expecting from a Halo game. The shooting looks solid, I like that they have re-introduced pick ups in the game too like the new drop wall. The two new UNSC guns that they showed us, the VK78 Commando and the CQS48 Bulldog look like they are going to be fun to use, along with the new Banished weapons the Mangler and the Ravanger. Glad that the Brutes are back in a mainline Halo game. I am still a little unsure how I feel about the grappling hook, but it gives a new means of movement and adds more verticality to the game’s levels. It will be interesting to see how Halo feels being an “open world” game but I am cautiously optimistic about it. Once I get the game into my hands and start playing around with the objectives and shooting the poor alien bastards in the face, I’ll get a better sense if this really does “feel” like a Halo game.

Overall I think what Microsoft and 343 had shown for Halo Infinite was enough to get me more excited for Halo Infinite. I may have to replay the other Halo games to catch myself up with the story and get back into the feeling of stepping into the boots of the Master Chief. Looking forward to the game’s release. You can see the campaign gameplay reveal here.

State of Decay 3 – Winter zombie deers

I played the previous State of Decay games and I generally enjoyed them. I would not call them AAA games but AA games. They looked okay, they played okay, they had a number of bugs which did annoy me sometimes but overall I had fun playing them in single player and multiplayer. The CGI trailer for State of Decay 3 has me curiously asking if there would be dynamic weather or seasons and the potential of hunting or wild life threats. Very interested to see more. I do not know when this game will be released but I don’t see it coming out in 2020 or 2021. You can see the announcement trailer here.

Forza Motorsport – Vroooom…

Turn 10 and Playground Games have IMO developed the best racing games in the last two decades period. Both Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon are the best simulation and arcade racing games there are, no questions asked. They look, sound, and feel extremely authentic. The in-engine trailer they showed us has me excited to get back into the Motorsport side of the Forza series as it looks photorealistic and running in 4K at 60fps is going to be great. Again, much like State of Decay 3, I want to see more but can see this title being at least 2 years away if it is in early development. You can see the announcement trailer here.

The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon – Mystery! Scandalous Strangers! Thrills! Danger!

The Outer Worlds was a very good RPG by Obsidian. I really enjoyed my time in that universe and am happy to purchase the DLC for this, no questions asked. This trailer was also one of the best trailers promoting a game I have seen in a long time. The voice over and the overlays were hilarious, plus it comes out on September 9th so it is not too far away. Time to reinstall The Outer Worlds and pre-purchase this DLC; bonus discount if you are an Xbox Game Pass subscriber. If the DLC is as good as the main game I will be satisified with my purchase. You can see the announcement trailer here.

Avowed – classic RPG

As an RPG fan the new RPG that Obsidian announced has me intrigued. There was not much shown other than the CGI trailer, but it is fantasy based, there are spells, flaming arrows, skeleton warriors, etc. I’ll need to see more but the RPG games that Obsidan has put out are all IMO hits so this one should be a no brainer if you are an RPG fan. Again I don’t think we’ll see this game released until late 2023 the earliest. Plus being built entirely from the ground up for the Xbox Series X means it will most likely not be released on the Xbox One. You can see the announcement trailer here.

Hellblade 2 – we are going to… Iceland

Using Unreal Engine 5 and built for the Xbox Series X and PC means this game is going balls to the walls with high fidelity. I really enjoyed playing the first game and am looking forward to playing the sequel. Wish that they showed us a little more than just telling us the game is going to take place in Iceland or centered around Iceland. Much like State of Decay 3, Forza Motorsport and Avowed I do not see this game being released in 2020, 2021, or 2022 (starting to see a pattern here anyone?)

Destiny 2: Beyond Light – XSX, XGP, 4K 60fps

Bungie to me have really done no wrong. They made Halo. I never played Destiny 1 and got into Destiny 2 from the start and generally enjoyed it. Now that they have split with Activision they can really spread their wings, try new things and experiment a little with their game. I have not played Destiny 2 in a little while because I find the load times fairly long when playing on my Xbox One X and running at 30 fps is not great after playing many games now in 60fps at a minimum. When it does come to the Xbox Series X in 4k at 60fps and on Xbox Game Pass I’ll be looking to get back into it and I know a couple of my friends will be ready to party up and get back together in our usual fireteam. You can see the showcase trailer here.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 – surprised to see this

I absolutely loved playing the previous S.T.A.L.K.E.R games. I was absolutely surprised to see this game shown off here, even if it was just a CGI trailer that really gave very little away. I look forward to finding out more about this game in the near future with it releasing in 2022 at the earliest. Could this be the S.T.A.L.K.E.R game that has official and proper dedicated coop multiplayer? You can see the official trailer #1 here.

Warhammer 40K: Dark Tide – for the Emperor

As a kid and teenager I played both Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy. So seeing this game was again a little surprising and pleasing. I am happy that we are not playing Space Marines but the Imperial Guard too as it makes the game feel significantly more dangerous. The CGI trailer looked good and I have enjoyed my time playing Warhammer: Vermintide 2 which was also developed by Fatshark. I would like to see more of this game. It looks like we will be getting different classes based on the characters that they have shown and the Chaos are at their old tricks again. Hopefully this comes out in the next year or two but I do not have my hopes up. You can see the announcement trailer here.

The Medium – rendering two worlds at the same time

I am hopeful that this game is good because what they had shown looked really interesting. Graphically I think it did not look next generation but I guess conceptually what they are trying to achieve requires some of the technology that the next generation of consoles and PC is offering. Unfortunately this game too did not have a release date so I’ll need to wait a little longer before it is released. On the plus side, if it is going to come out several years down the line, they can polish it up and start drip feeding us a little bit more about the game. Happy to see more of this game in the future. You can see the dual reality trailer here.

CrossfireX – a Remedy campaign

Last time I saw anything about this game was the multiplayer and that looked interesting. I am still waiting for a decent military shooter that is not too janky, in early access or Call of Duty. Seeing the footage of what the campaign would look like was another surprise and to have Remedy working on it is a bonus. To me it looks very Call of Duty in regard to the set pieces, explosions and themes. Not sure if this is a day one pick up, but I will be keeping a close eye on this one because if the campaign and multiplayer are any good then bye bye Battlefield (even though in reality I dropped off Battlefield 5 very early on in the release). You can see the campaign reveal trailer here.

Fable – what, you chase chickens?

Finally. I had been waiting so long for another mainline Fable game. Fable 1 was an absolutle blast. Fable 2 was amazing and unfortunately Fable 3 was a little bit of a disappointment and not a great way to send off the series for the time being. To showcase a CGI trailer for such a beloved franchise so early on in the development of the game means that we will need to be waiting a good period of time for this title too. I am more than happy to wait for a new Fable game if they can iron out the lag and issues that plagued Fable 3. Once I find out the release date for Fable it will be a day one pick up on Xbox Game Pass. You can see the announcement trailer here.

An Unanswered Xbox Series X Question

As the release of the Xbox Series X comes closer every day, there is one question that I am unsure there is an answer to (well I cannot find it anyway and I have not heard anything specific from Microsoft or Phil Spencer).

“Will the Xbox Series X support the same my home console settings as the Xbox One?”

What is the my home console setting you may ask? More information about it can be found here but it is by far one of the best Xbox One features. I am also not the only one asking this question. Over at the various Xbox subreddits the same question is asked multiple times with many individuals assuming that just because the Xbox One has this functionality that it would be available for the Xbox Series X. However that is a bad assumption IMO. Microsoft has been very pro-consumer so it may very well be there, but if they remove the functionality then it will go completely against this pro-consumer messaging.

Why is this question so important though? As I noted above it is IMO one of the best Xbox One features because it makes going digital if your household owns multiple Xbox One consoles extremely beneficial and you can save money on a subscription. The scenario in my household currently is that I own an Xbox One X and my brother owns an Xbox One X; I have set my brother’s Xbox One X as my home console, and he has set my Xbox One X as his home console. What this allows us to do is:

  1. Share my Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription – I pay for the subscription but my brother gets the ability to play on Xbox Live and any game on Xbox Game Pass on console. The only thing that my brother cannot do is play any Xbox Game Pass game on PC.
  2. Share all our Xbox digital games – if I buy a digital game, my brother can play the same game whether I am online or offline (as long as my brother is connected to Xbox Live); and if my brother buys a digital game then I can do the same.

If Microsoft does remove this functionality then my brother would need to buy his own subscription and we both would lose part of our very large digital library. Generally we both buy games digitally when they launch at full price, and if we cannot share our digital games then I for sure will not be buying as many digital games and will be waiting for massive sales. So Microsoft, Phil Spencer, it would be great if you could let the Xbox community know whether or not you are axing this functionality.

[Updated: 03/29/20] Experiencing slow Microsoft Store game downloads and updates

Update 03/29/20: It has been about 2 weeks and after changing my Xbox One X and my gaming PC’s DNS settings I can safely say that my game download and update speeds have been consistently faster. With the whole COVID-19 pandemic happening at the moment some services are slowing down their customer’s downloads speeds or reducing their bitrates, see here. Your mileage during this time may vary if you were having download/update issues from either the Xbox Store or the Microsoft Store.

Update 03/15/20: I have been playing around with the DNS settings on my Xbox One X after doing some reading, and found this page and this page. After making some changes to my DNS I can confirm that I am getting significantly better download speeds.

Instead of the several Mbps I was getting, I am now getting speeds in the high 80s. Whatever CDN I am connecting to is allowing me to download the games and patches much faster 😀

On Saturday (03/14/20) I tried to contact TPG support to see what is going on but after waiting for over 30 minutes just to talk to someone I gave up. As of right now I am not recommending anyone to use TPG as their Australian ISP and look at another provider (perhaps Aussie Broadband – seem to fairly good reviews, Australian customer support, and do not suffer from this issue). I will be checking back again in a week or so to see if this change solves my problem, and if it does then bye bye TPG.

Original: I pay for a 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload internet connection through TPG. Generally when I do a speed test I achieve download speeds in the area of the high 80s and low 90s which is fantastic (even during peak times). But when I am trying to download an Xbox One game or update an Xbox One game I get speeds in the very low 10Mbs but mostly fall under 2Mbps. It is even worse if I try to download a Windows game through the Xbox app on my PC, where I get speeds less than 1Mbs on average. Just this morning I wanted to download Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary on PC, but was getting speeds under 1Mbps and just cancelled the download in disappointment.

What is really odd is that this has only been happening recently, I would say in the last two months. My home network configuration has not changed at all, the same devices are connected and there have been no intrusions in my network (so I know there are no unknown devices taking up my bandwidth). I am a little perplexed.

Some of my troubleshooting steps I have taken are:

  1. Restart my modem and my router (multiple times)
  2. Restart my Xbox One X console (both hard shutdown and restarting)
  3. Restart my PC (full shutdown and restart)
  4. Restart the Xbox app
  5. Cancel my game download or game update
  6. Restart my game download or game update
  7. Change from a wired connection to a wireless connection for my Xbox One X (and then back to a wired connection to a wireless connection)
  8. Change the DNS that I am connecting to for my Xbox One X (from my ISP provided DNS to Google, and then back)

None of the above troubleshooting steps have seemed to have solved or identifiy the problem 😦 What is really odd, when I check my network connection status and results on my Xbox One X I see download speeds of 90Mbps, upload speeds of 20Mbps, Open NAT, and ping of 100ms. If I try and stream video content in 4K I have no issue. Watching YouTube videos in HD I have no problem. Even downloading games and game updates on other platforms like Steam and EA Origin seem to be downloading at speeds I would expect for what I am paying for. I verified that on Steam I achieved speeds of 79Mbps when downloading Vermintide 2 the same morning as I tried downloading Halo CEA.

Navigating to the Xbox Support site is in my opinion pointless. To actually get in contact with an actual person that works at Microsoft is near impossible, which is a shame. I do not want to talk to another Xbox gamer, I do not want to post in the forums and hope for a response (looking at the support forums, much of the posts are unresolved and unanswered). The customer support AI that they have looked promising. The steps asked by the AI to help narrow down the problem are what I have performed, but in the end it could not fix the problem and asked if I wanted to talk to a real person; but that person would not be a Microsoft employee but an Xbox gamer.

I’ll be keeping this post updated with any new information that I find or experience. Hopefully this is not going to be a long term issue, because I download all my games as I have gone in all digital and there are a number of games coming out that I will be picking up soon like Resident Evil 3 and Doom Eternal. If you have experienced this problem, are having this issue, or have recently resolved the problem then please do leave a comment below.

E3 2019: Microsoft Xbox Briefing Impressions

I woke up at 6AM AEST to watch the Microsoft Xbox E3 2019 briefing and I felt a little indifferent after it ended. There were some moments I was like, “yeah this is going to be awesome”, and then there were moments like “next game please”. Frankly it was not their best showcase (for me anyway). I watched it again before writing this blog post and took notes down as the event progressed so I could at least have some references and ideas to go off. You can watch the VOD here (I have time stamped it to the start of the event so you don’t have to sit through 25 minutes of a countdown timer).

Xbox Game Pass is king

The biggest take away from the entire Xbox event IMO was that Xbox Game Pass is going to be such an attractive offering to gamers on Xbox and now on PC that it would be foolish to not consider the subscription service, especially that for a limited time it is $1 for the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Nearly every single game that was announced or shown was going to be available at launch of Xbox Game Pass, which is fantastic news. Not only that but with their new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription at $15.95 AUD per month you get your standard Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass for PC. I’ve just subscribed to the ultimate service as it is too good to not use. Well done to Microsoft for offering such an enticing and worthwhile bundle. Using this service I have bought less games but I have played more games, and even games that I had held out on or was hesitant to pick up such as Homefront: The Revolution and Vampyr.

The future of Xbox

The new Xbox console was also teased, code-named Project Scarlett. With four times the power of the current Xbox One X, it is going to be one beast of a machine. It appears the focus for the new Xbox console is to have games play faster/smoother, load quicker, while also look amazing (obviously). As a gamer you should be excited by this. As Phil Spencer said, “The new Xbox has been designed, built and optimized for one thing and one thing only, gaming…”. Unfortunately we need to wait until Holiday 2020 but on the bright side I am going to have the time to save up for the console and any game I want when it comes out.

There was also a very brief mention of Project xCloud but there was not mention of the network specifics or how it will function or even how much it will cost, so we will need to wait and see for that. There is also a new console streaming service that will be available too, where your own personal console can be setup as your own personal xCloud server so that you can play your games anywhere you want which is cool.

I already have an Xbox Elite controller, but version two of the controller is going to be coming out soon. From what they showcased in the trailer (you can see that here) it looks like that they listened to the gamers and have made some really good improvements like fully wrapped grips, adjustable-tension thumbsticks, and more. Having Bluetooth connectivity is a bonus as is the USB-C connection, but I am not entirely sold on the internal battery which from the looks of it is not removable. Many people have said the first iteration of the controller was poorly built and did not withstand the use from long gaming sessions; I have not had problems with my and the grips, etc. are all still going strong.

So many games

When Microsoft said that they were bringing games to the show, they really meant it. There was a crazy amount of games that they showed but there was only a handful of games that really appealed to me from either the cinematic trailer or the gameplay trailer. A quick rundown of the games that interest me included:

  • The Outer World – I was a fan of Fallout New Vegas, and to be able to play an RPG from the creators of New Vegas is going to be great. Plus it is going to be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps – as someone who is not interested in platformers too much, the original game was absolutely outstanding and difficult. This looks to be much of the same and will also be on Xbox Game Pass at launch. However it looks like the game will be coming out early 2020.
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – you can check out my breakdown of the gameplay shown at EA Play 2019 here, but the CGI trailer looked decent. However being a single player action game, the replayability does not look very high.
  • Blair Witch – horror, atmospheric and thriller games are some of my favourite. This looked to be right up my alley and gameplay-wise appears to play closely like the Outlast series. I am interested in seeing more of this and as a bonus it is an Xbox Game Pass title.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 – nothing more needs to be said about this game. It will be GOTY. CD Projekt Red are one of the best developers out there. They know how to make fantastic looking RPGs and worlds that are fully immersive. This game looks no different, but we will need to wait until 2020 for this title too 😦
  • Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition – more Age of Empires is always a good thing. As an RTS fan, and a fan of the series I will be playing this game when it launches and it is going to be on Xbox Game Pass.
  • 12 Minutes – this game has me intrigued. It is not a game that would normally interest me. I’ll keep an eye on this game and when it goes on sale I’ll probably pick this up and give it a play.
  • Gears 5 – I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on this title. Everytime I see this game I get more and more excited. The new Escape game mode looked absolutely crazy and is going to be a blast playing with two other mates. The story looks like it is also going to go places where other Gears games have not gone. Releasing in September 2019 on Xbox Game Pass makes this a no brainer.
  • Halo Infinite – it has been too long between main Halo games. The last big Halo game came out at the end of 2015, Halo 5: Guardians. Halo Infinite is going to be a launch title in 2020 for the new Xbox console. 343 Industries went forward with the campaign in Halo 4 and then took great steps forward with multiplayer in Halo 5. All they need to do is now have both packaged together, but I am not sure they can do this; fingers crossed. I have high hopes for the game and it launching through Xbox Game Pass along a brand new console might be what the 18 year old franchise needs.

The next year will be interesting, with many of the games announced coming through Xbox Game Pass and playable in 2020 they will most likely be playable on the current generation of Xbox and next generation of Xbox consoles. Bring on 2020!

Moving Away From Insider Builds

I have been an Xbox and Windows Insider since the two programmes were available. Though I have been more active in providing feedback and taking alpha, and regular early builds in the Xbox Insider programme than the Windows Insider programme. However, it has now come to the point where stability is an issue. I can live with the issues like party chat not working all the time or getting randomly disconnected from Xbox Live. But not being able to update your console is entirely different.

At the start of the Windows Insider programme I was active, much like I was with the Xbox Insider programme. The builds were fairly stable, the features were coming in fast and were generally reliably. However some point at the end of 2017 or early 2018 I felt that the builds had gotten less stable and I experienced a number of update issues. I never ran any of the Windows Insider builds on my regular and day to day Windows machine but the laptop that had been receiving builds was encountering issues updating to the next build and odd system performance and functional problems.

Note: I am well aware that taking early builds is always going to come with problems and being part of the programme is to help find issues, report them and provide feedback on the quality of the build. However when you cannot perform basic functions and update your machine to the next build, it becomes hard to stay in the programme. I commend Microsoft in trying to resolve as much of the issues as possible and getting the community’s feedback on features and functionality. But there comes a point where being part of the programme is no longer viable or worth it.

The issues that I had experienced with the Windows Insider programme, I rarely if ever experienced with the Xbox Insider programme. Updating to the latest Xbox OS version was never a problem (if you have an update waiting then your only options are to update to the new version, stay offline, or turn the Xbox off) and getting access to new features was great. Many of the issues I found with the Xbox Insider builds were mainly cosmetic until recently. Two weeks ago I tried to update my Xbox One X console to the latest Xbox OS build but I kept getting an upgrade error. As I stated above, my options were limited. I can either update the console or not play it.

I tried to update the console again after it failed, but that did not work. I performed a hard reboot and hard restart of the console but that too did not work. Looking at the Xbox support page provided me with an option to perform an offline update (but from what happened it appears that it only considers Xbox OS versions that are not part of the Xbox Insider programme). Updating offline did not help at all. I resorted to performing a factory reset but that too did not help. The error message was also inconsistent and when I went to the Xbox support page to look what the error messages meant, it showed that I needed to give my Xbox to Microsoft to fix it (not going to happen, especially during the holiday period). I was not sure the Xbox Insider build was the problem originally but I unenrolled the Xbox console from the Xbox Insider programme and tried to update it again. Low and behold it updated with no issue, to the current consumer wide stable version.

When you cannot update your console to the latest version, but need the update to have your console function properly it is a major issue. Should I have been part of the Xbox Insider programme with my main Xbox One X console? Probably not, just like I kept my main desktop Windows PC on a stable version of Windows 10 and my Windows laptop on an insider build, I should have done the same with my Xbox consoles. As it is noted by Microsoft when you join the programmes, the builds can be problematic and you may not use your machine because of the update or the update my brick your machine. With that in mind now and having issues I don’t feel it is worth getting access to new features when the builds are less stable no matter which ring (alpha, beta, etc) I am in. Once I learn that these issues are resolved or happening nearly not at all I may re-enroll my console.