Microsoft at E3 2016: the 7 biggest announcements

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Who would have expected, three years ago, that the biggest news from Microsoft’s 2016 E3 event would be not just a new console, but two new consoles. The Xbox One S and Project Scorpio were the standouts of an E3 event that underscored Microsoft’s new direction — a purposeful shift from the focus on entertainment and media to video games. Microsoft is treating the Xbox brand like Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem, envisioning a future in which Xbox games can be played on a console, a computer, a mobile device, or whatever else comes next.

Microsoft’s vision for the future of games is so big, that it’s almost easy to overlook the actual games being produced in the present. The company provided closer looks at a number of announced titles — Recore, Halo Wars 2, and Gears of War 4 — and officially announcing a slate of sequels — State of Decay 2 and Forza Horizon 3.

It was a lengthy, game-filled presentation. So, we’ve collected the seven most important announcements.

Microsoft will launch two new consoles in the next two years: Xbox One S and Project Scorpio

Microsoft has fired the first shot in a new sort of console war. Sony is expected to announce an updated, more powerful PlayStation 4 at a later date, but this morning, Microsoft revealed its own plan. Or should we say plans?

The Xbox One S will be available this August, and is a traditional improvement upon a game console midway through its lifecycle: thinner and smaller, with a larger hard drive, a slick paint job, and a handful of small internal improvements. In fall 2017, though, Microsoft will release something different. Dubbed Project Scorpio, the new console will be able to run games at 4k resolution and power virtual reality experiences. But unlike a fully new console, Project Scorpio will be the beginning of Microsoft’s initiative to extend the lifecycle of a console — or at least its games — indefinitely. In this theoretical future, Microsoft will release new and better hardware with greater frequency, but old Xbox One games will work on the new hardware, too.

Xbox Play Anywhere wants you to play anywhere

The majority of upcoming games developed or published by Microsoft will be playable on Xbox One and Windows 10; so if you buy a downloadable game on Xbox One, you’ll be able to play it on PC. You can start on your Windows desktop, and finish on your living room Xbox One. Recore, Forza Horizon 4, and Halo Wars 2 will be some of the first titles to make use of the functionality.

Xbox president Phil Spencer compares the ubiquity to Netflix. The grand ambition is, one day, Microsoft games will be available wherever we’d like them: on a computer, phone, television, VR headset, or whatever nascent technology will appear this decade.

Xbox Live gets "clubs"

"Clubs" are persistent groups of Xbox Live friends that exist both on and off Xbox One. Rather than form a new party each game session, a club is essentially a voice and text chatroom that can be entered and exited at will. The text chat isn’t limited to the console, it will be accessible on PC and the Xbox Live mobile app, too.

State of Decay 2 exists, and it’s bigger, prettier, and has multiplayer

The wildly ambitious State of Decay always felt like a dry run for a big-budget sequel. Now, we have our first look at the franchise’s step into what appears to be the waters of blockbuster game development. State of Decay 2 partners the glossy graphics with multiplayer.

State of Decay 2 wasn't the only zombie announcement. Microsoft also showed the first trailer for Dead Rising 4.

Recore exists, still, and it may be Microsoft’s Metroid

Last year, Microsoft announced Recore with a short, cinematic trailer. Then, nothing. No screenshots. No gameplay. Zilch. But it appears the game’s creators got a lot done during that media blackout! Developed in part by some of the folks who updated Metroid for Nintendo,Recore appears to have a similar vibe of "explore a world, find new tools, unlock secrets."

Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4 appeal to the fans

For Gears of War 4, Microsoft hired the franchise's longtime producer, Rod Fergusson, to run the revamped Vancouver studio, The Coalition. The result of that decision is a Gears of War game that looks very much at place within the franchise, more so than the 2013 spinoff Gears of War: Judgement.

Forza Horizon 3 also looks like an ambitious, colorful sequel to a series that's quietly become one of the best experiences on Xbox One.

Halo Wars 2 beta is playable today

Halo Wars 2 won't be released until February 2017, but Microsoft announced the beta begins today. This is part of a new trend in which publishers give fans something to try immediately as they wait for the promises of E3 to become realities over the coming months or years.