Our gaming experts all agree on one thing - 2016 is going to be one hell of a year to be a gamer. But which platform is going to have the best year? We've given our PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and PC gaming experts a chance to make their case and explain why their device is going to be the dominant games machine of 2016. Today we're continuing with what it means to be an Xbox gamer in 2016.
It's safe to say the last few years haven't been kind to the Xbox One, trailing as it did behind the blazing tail of PS4 and Sony's hot cake sales tactics. 2015 started off much the same, though slowly but surely Microsoft is beginning to turn around the fortunes of its much-maligned eighth generation console.
An honest and open policy with the press, via t-shirt aficionado Phil Spencer, a strong winter games line-up at the tail end of 2015 and the seemingly total abandonment of Kinect 2.0 making up most of the positive changes.
The Xbox One then is finally coming into its own.
But where do we go from here? Can Microsoft turn it into the gaming powerhouse we know it can become? I think so. This is the state of play in 2016.
Final year of Xbox 360
Yes, I know it might hurt to read these words, but the Xbox 360 is finally coming to an end this year as Microsoft prepares to cease support for games and the dashboard itself.
It's a shame, a genuine end of an era, but after 11 years of careful calibration the big M will finally leave its 84+ million-selling console behind and focus its attention entirely on Xbox One.
"A games console being gently steered into retirement? How the Dickens is this a positive?!" the voices in my head cry. Trust me on this one - Microsoft shifting its attention away from 'old faithful' is exactly what the Xbox One needs.
- State of the Gaming Union Address - PlayStation
- State of the Gaming Union Address - Nintendo
- State of the Gaming Union Address - PC
The console war isn't a conflict already lost to Sony, and with Nintendo clearly gearing up to reveal the NX later this year, now is the time for Xbox One to be firing on all cylinders.
And with Xbox One's 360 backwards compatibility list increasing every month (and remember, we're barely two and a half years into the lifecycle of the console) there's plenty of time left for that list to swell and give gamers of any experience level the chance to enjoy these old games without forgoing the superior platform.
Big games, big names
The year of our gaming lord 2016 is going to be a huge year for Xbox One - and that's saying something considering they're getting Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Horizon: Zero Dawn on PS4 in the next 12 months.
Even with Halo, the Xbox's flagship franchise, already out of the gates in last year's outstanding Halo 5: Guardians, the way is paved for a Microsoft takeover.
Quantum Break is almost ready - and while its desire to mix TV and games has yet to really convince, it's still an incredibly ambitious and confident game, and that's just what the platform needs. Games willing to take risks could redefine what Xbox One can offer. The proper locust-stomping sequel, Gears Of War 4 (complete with moody shadows), has the potential to rewrite the status quo of a series that solidified Xbox 360's gaming reputation in its earliest years.
Then there's the breath-taking destruction of Crackdown 3, and that's no hyperbole, just look at the trailers.
The revival of the Halo RTS in Halo Wars 2; the Steamboat Mickey-esque beauty of Cuphead; the return of Rare to full game developing duties in Sea Of Thieves (also, pirates!) and F2P MMO Fable Legends.
So. Many. Games.
Refining the New Xbox UI
The New Xbox User Experience, which was rolled out across the Xbox One community at the tail end of last year, gave the Windows 8-styled dashboard a much needed kick up the backside. Content divided up until four simple categories; game hubs given more prominence and an intuitive side-bar that feels like a faithful nod to the Blades UI of old.
But as good as the new dash is, Microsoft will need to keep refining it if it wants to create the kind of familiar and welcoming platform that Xbox 360 offered. In fact, this year sees the reinstatement of some much-missed features, including the ability to see who in your list of friends is currently in a Party Chat and the ranking system that took your accumulative Gamerscore booty for the last 30 days and ranked it against your mates.
Features and quirks aside, it's the power of Windows 10 behind the scenes that's going to make all the difference.
Alongside cross-platform multiplayer with PC servers, it introduces DirectX 12, the super-powered API that will help new XO games finally get close to squeezing that graphical fidelity discrepancy with PS4. With this boost of adrenaline in its veins, we're going to see some incredible graphical output that won't just look good on a games conference big screen.
Making HoloLens matter
Virtual reality, whether you consider it a passing fad or a techy dream come true, is here to stay and it will this year change the gaming landscape. And while Sony has placed all its money-scented eggs in the far more traditional PlayStation VR basket, Microsoft is thinking way outside of the box with the HoloLens.
Mixing together what will become more 'classical' VR elements (a headset-based design, bespoke audio design and sensors designed to track head movement) with augmented reality (the projection of 3D images and constructs into a real environment), HoloLens has almost unlimited potential.
For Xbox, this means being able to approach games such as Minecraft in entirely new ways - overseeing and navigating grand designs in your living room like a construction god.
It means entering and interacting with some of your favourite worlds and characters in a way no other console can offer. The potential is colossal and I can't wait to see what we might see at E3 in June and beyond.
Firing up the marketing machine
Sony has been cleaning up on the marketing side of things. In fact, a savvy and aggressive marketing campaign that's been running at full speed since 2013 is turning 'PS4' into a synonym for 'current-gen'.
Wind back time to the last generation and that is exactly what Microsoft achieved with Xbox 360, plastering that green swoosh on the tail end of almost every TV videogame ad in circulation.
Microsoft needs to get equally savvy and start battling Sony on the battlefield that will make a huge difference to the modern console war: the accumulation of new adopters.
Xbox One in 2016 has so much to offer - a huge selection of games (both first and third-party), a graphical output that's finally matching PS4, the most intuitive and user-friendly UI out there (sorry, PS4 XMB), cross-platform play, a new customisable Elite controller that makes the brittle DualShock 4 look like a toy by comparison and the kind of robust multiplayer infrastructure PSN could only dream of.
If Microsoft can get that message across to the masses with the kind of ruthless efficiency Sony has been exhibiting for the last two years, then 2016 will soon transform into the year of Xbox One.
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