Halo 5: Guardians Gets a Pair of Trailers & Release Date. Confusion Ensues.

Halo 5: GuardiansMicrosoft released a pair of trailers for Halo 5: Guardians Sunday featuring two distinctly branching conclusions involving the Master Chief and a new character, Locke. Halo 5: Guardians will be the first official entry on the Xbox One for the Halo series and will debut on October 27, 2015.

The trailers are simple enough, each featuring a voice over by either the Master Chief or by Locke, a wartorn battlefield with one soldier wounded in front of a massive statue. If the tone of the trailer is any indication of the potential of Halo 5, this next entry will be much darker than previous titles and certainly does not paint the Master Chief out to be the hero who sacrificed himself at the end of Halo 3.

For those invested in the storyline surrounding the Master Chief, I hope you’ve kept up with the live action piece Halo: Nightfall. Locke is the central character in that series as an ONI (gotta love the old Bungie references) acquisitions specialist. Locke is being branded as the antagonist in the new trailers, hunting the former hero. It seems like there is a ton of beneath the surface stories that motivate Locke to go against the Chief.

It is a smart series of trailers that certainly gets the conversation started. Now is a great time to get the groundswell spinning with Microsoft hitching their Fall tentpole to one of the most revered franchises in gaming. Especially at a time where Sony’s library is appearing a little weak with the delay of Uncharted and the poor performance of The Order 1886, having Halo 5 capture the attention of the Fall season is crucial for the Xbox brand.

Of course Microsoft is no stranger to the rocky launches as the remastered Halo: The Master Chief collection was plagued with terrible matchmaking systems, rendering the multiplayer component largely unplayable. A solid holiday slate of Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider would certainly put the ball in Microsoft’s course

Whether or not Halo 5 turns out to be the epic it promises to be remains to be seen. Halo 4 was good, but not stellar. If 343 Industries can succeed in injecting some life into what is now seen as a slightly archaic shooter, a solid story would certainly help. The story is, after all, the best part of Halo Reach, my personal favorite in the series.

Turn 10 to Release Fast & Furious Collaboration March 27

Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & FuriousIn collaboration news that is both surprising and entirely logical, Microsoft’s Turn 10 Studios announced a promotional collaboration with Universal Partnerships & Licensing that will join Forza Horizon 2 and the upcoming addition to the Fast & Furious movie franchise, Furious 7. Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious will release for the Xbox One on March 27 as a stand alone expansion to last year’s very well received Forza Horizon 2 and will be free to download until April 10.

Players will be recruited by franchise mechanic Tej Parker, voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, to source and test out the vehicles needed for the Fast & Furious crew’s next big heist. Missions will take place in the south of France, much like the region explored in Forza Horizon 2, with a variety of challenges for players to partake in as well as a free roam mode to explore the map.

The expansion will feature more than eleven cars, all modified to Fast & Furious levels, including Dominic Toretto’s iconic Dodge Charger. The cars confirmed so far are:

  • 1970 Dodge Charger R/T
  • 2012 Nissan GT-R
  • 1998 Toyota Supra
  • 2014 Maserati Ghibli S
  • 1970 Plymouth Road Runner
  • 2015 Dodge Charger R/T
  • 1970 Plymouth Cuda
  • 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

It is a fairly healthy list of cars that has a very good variety with exotics, SUVs, imports and especially muscle cars well represented. I hope that the associated liveries to these cars, the Toyota Supra in particular, will be included as well. Mostly so we can be done with the scores of orange Fast & Furious knock off liveries that have been created by users since the original Forza Motorsport.

I’m hoping the expansion adopts at least one special challenge that has players racing a train (complete with a slow-motion jump at the end) or dragging a ridiculously oversized safe through the streets of Miami (not really). There is no word on whether the expansion will add to the library of cars for Forza Horizon 2.

The free availability is in promotion of the theatrical release of Furious 7 on April 3. Furious 7 is notable as it is late star Paul Walker’s last film before his death in 2013. The price for the expansion will be $10 after the free promotional period ends.

Xbox Wire – Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious – At No Charge for a Limited Time!

Xbox One is $50 Off…Again

Xbox One ControllerMicrosoft is bringing the price on the Xbox One by $50 again, a mere 12 days after bringing the price back up to their MSRP. The promotional discount will begin on Friday, January 16 and has no end date specified. Thus far only the base bundle has been confirmed at the price of $349.

In an interview with Polygon, Michael Nichols, the vice president of marketing for Xbox, said, “It was really about positioning ourselves to have a breakout holiday. We were as aggressive as we could be to see how people would react.”

At pricing points of $349.99 and $449.99 for the Kinect bundle, Microsoft saw tremendous performance in their console sales over the period of their previous promotion, which ran between November 2, 2014 and January 3, 2015. Sales performance was so strong for Microsoft that the Xbox One was the top selling console over that period, besting Sony’s PlayStation 4 for the first time this console generation.

“The results were staggering,” Nichols reflected, “it was a terrific response to the changes we made.”

This is the best decision Microsoft can make given the momentum they currently have. I mused that they had performed admirably over the holidays, well enough to erase much of the damage their early missteps created. By continuing to aggressively price their consoles, Microsoft is ensuring that the public community remembers how strong the Xbox is as a brand and it will also ease development concerns for the Xbox One as there will be less of a risk for develops to work directly with the console.

This is especially true at a time where console exclusives have been notably weak. While Microsoft had a decent Fall offering with Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive and the flawed Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Sony saw their exclusive offerings delayed to 2015 and their lone major release was Driveclub, which was largely incomplete and unstable. 2015 looks to be a stronger year for both companies with major tentpole releases of Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End on PlayStation 4 due out in the fall. Sony’s lineup is also bolstered by exclusives like Bloodborne and The Order: 1886 while Microsoft should see Rise of the Tomb Raider and Forza Motorsport 6. I maintain that the Xbox has better exclusives at the moment, but all bets are off once Bloodborne and Uncharted 4 are on shelves.

The close to 2014 shows just how interesting this generation of consoles is going to be. While Sony still maintains a decent lead on Microsoft, Microsoft’s calculated patience appears to be paying off for them in how they repositioned themselves. Microsoft has shown the ability to adapt in the face of adversity whereas Sony has found ways to become complacent, despite having every advantage early on. What I can hope for is for both companies to ramp up their aggressive campaigns, because in the end, the consumer will win.

Xbox Wire – Xbox One Closes a Record-Breaking Holiday and Looks Ahead to 2015

Halo 3: ODST Coming to Xbox One, Free for Existing Master Chief Collection Owners

Halo 3: ODST343 Industries is bringing the Halo 3 spin-off ODST to the Xbox One and it will be free for existing players of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The game is being made free as a way of apologizing for problems plaguing The Master Chief Collection’s online matchmaking service. 343 Industries will also be giving players a remastered version of the Relic map from Halo 2  with both scheduled for release in Spring of 2015.

Players need to have played The Master Chief Collection online between the game’s launch on November 11 and this offer’s announcement on December 19 in order to qualify for the offer. In addition to remastered versions of ODST and the Relic map, players will also receive one month of Xbox Live Gold, an in-game nameplate and an avatar item.

Bonnie Ross, 343 Industries’ studio head, issued a lengthy explanation in an apology Friday. “This has been a humbling experience and highlighted how we as a studio can – and need – to do better for Xbox fans around the world,” she wrote on Xbox.com.

Halo 3: ODST is one of the high points in an already stellar game franchise. ODST might have been underrated for its time but it has a fantastically deep campaign with a fully fleshed out multiplayer component that complimented Halo 3’s offerings. With a cast of characters led by Nathan Fillion, ODST had a degree of charm not often found in the numbered entries. Taking the role of a Orbital Drop Shock Trooper the player had to really rethink their approach without the skill set of a Spartan at their disposal. It was a thoughtful shooter in a world where such strategy is rarely rewarded.

Unfortunately, 343 Industries said that they have no immediate plans to remaster ODST’s Firefight mode, which was Halo’s version of Horde mode. I do hope they reconsider, because Firefight is a spectacular mode, unique to ODST.

This is good on 343 Industries especially with all the negative attention games have been getting lately, with many being accused of being incomplete. With major releases like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and DriveClub having rocky launches this year, it is good for 343 and Microsoft to get in front of the issue before it burns too many bridges. Who knows, maybe the avatar item will be a T-shirt that says “My bad.”

Xbox.com – A Thank You to our Fans from Bonnie Ross

Microsoft Secures Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Exclusivity with Publishing Deal

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Hot off the heels of losing Street Fighter V to the PlayStation 4, Microsoft is upping its commitment to Rise of the Tomb Raider by becoming the publisher of the Crystal Dynamics developed prequel-reboot-sequel. Revealed in a tweet by Microsoft’s head of global product marketing, Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft will publish the game when it launches exclusively for the Xbox One next year.

With Microsoft assuming the lead on publishing, it is safe to conclude that they will be the primary drivers of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s marketing campaign in addition to taking the financial responsibility of producing the game. What this means for the IP holder and previous publisher Square Enix is currently unknown, but I’d guess that Microsoft showed up with a truck full of money, and pleaded Square Enix to let them take over publishing on the game.

No announcement has been made regarding any potential releases on other platforms, but I highly doubt that the Sony PlayStation 4 will see Rise of the Tomb Raider with Microsoft having so much control of the game. This should come as no surprise to Sony, who effectively did the same thing with Street Fighter V, whose exclusivity was announced this weekend. I would still guess that the game will eventually head to Windows PC.

So, shots fired, from both camps. The days of console exclusive third party titles are back, just like the days of the SNES and Genesis.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is scheduled to launch by Holiday 2015.

Polygon – Microsoft will publish Rise of the Tomb Raider

Xbox One Dominates Black Friday Weekend Sales

Xbox One Assassin's Creed UnityMicrosoft’s aggressive price drop promotion appears to finally be paying off for the Washington based tech giant. According to a sales tracking study conducted by InfoScout, Xbox One sales made up over half of the consoles sold over the largest American shopping weekend.

Bundles of the Xbox One were already slashed by $50 leading into the Black Friday weekend, but the special promos got even sweeter with an additional $20 off at many retailers on top of offering big bundled deals for those purchasing the console.

Despite selling with Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a game whose flaws were well documented, the Assassin’s Creed Xbox One Bundle with Unity and Black Flag led the way at pretty much every major U.S. retailer. According to InfoScout’s sales tracking data, the Xbox One held a 53% share of the Black Friday sales compared to the Sony PlayStation 4’s 31%.

Nintendo, despite having a fairly solid offering of the Super Mario 3D World bundled Wii U and a mere week removed from the launch of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, mustered up a disappointing 6%. Numbers that were even beaten by the Xbox 360 at 9%.

I had the chance to see the sales first hand with many customers carrying boxes and boxes of Assassin’s Creed bundled Xbox Ones at my store. Although the PlayStation 4 GTAV bundle was a popular item as well, customers flocked to the Xbox One priced at $329.99, a sweet spot for many consumers.

The Xbox One’s deals continued to push hard all weekend long, including Microsoft selling the console at the same price of $329.99 and throwing in a free game for Cyber Monday, including the incredibly well received Dragon’s Age: Inquisition as an option.

While Sony certainly caught everybody’s attention by jumping out to the early sales lead, Microsoft is no where near giving up this fight. With more units in gamers’ hands, both companies have the opportunity to really push their exclusives next year to secure a foothold in this very interesting console race. Because when both of the top companies are competing as hard as Sony and Microsoft, the ones who win are the consumers.

Polygon – Study: Xbox One crushes the competition, made up most of Black Friday console sales

Xbox One Bundles $50 off Through the Year

Xbox One Bundles

Brace yourself, winter is coming. Or at least in this case, Xbox Ones are coming. Microsoft is dropping the price of the Xbox One by $50 in a holiday promotion running from November 2nd until January 3rd of 2015. The offer was announced last week in a press release and implied that all bundled systems would be eligible for the discount. Thus far, the discount is available at Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Wal-Mart and of course, the Microsoft Store.

Now when Microsoft said all bundles, what they really meant was any SKU of the Xbox One including systems with the Kinect included,older bundles packed in with Forza Motorsport 5 or Madden NFL 15, and even the brand new bundles including the new white colored Sunset Overdrive bundle and the bundle featuring Assassin’s Creed Unity. Personally, I have my eyes on the slightly more expensive Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle, with the limited edition console and controller, complete with a massive 1TB hard drive.

Microsoft clearly has sights on cutting into Sony’s console marketshare by undercutting the price of the PS4. Not only have they created multiple intriguing bundles (at no additional cost to the original SKU), but they are actually priced cheaper than Sony for the first time this generation. Pair the aggressive pricing with Microsoft’s intriguing exclusives for this year (Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2) and Microsoft is definitely ready for the holidays.

It’s no secret that the house that Gates built suffered from a ton of missteps during the Xbox One’s launch, but moves like dropping mandatory Kinect, killing the always online requirements and now offering a holiday timed price drop show that Microsoft is listening to the people. Just remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Sony was in the same exact position with the PS3.

Major Nelson – Starting today, save %50 on Xbox One bundles in the US