Xbox/Bethesda at E3 2021: a game-changer for Microsoft

The stars were aligned for Microsoft to deliver a phenomenal E3 2021 showcase and it's fair to say that Xbox and Bethesda delivered. The firm had already firmly established Game Pass as a service offering unbeatable value, but remarkably, the show did an impressive job of making the subscription seem almost indispensable. And in the process, Xbox went one stage further in comprehensively taking down the argument that its first-party line-up is lacking, while at the same time addressing the cross-gen controversy that made it feel like Microsoft wasn't fully committed to the concept of delivering games tailored to the strengths of the new wave of console and PC hardware. This one had it all – and perhaps it actually delivered too much, to the detriment of some of the games shown.

That's what we're discussing in the latest Digital Foundry Direct, where myself, John Linneman and Alex Battaglia pick out our highlights from the Xbox team's 90-minute showing and share some thoughts on how Microsoft chose to cram 30 games into what is a relatively short presentation and the extent to which it was successful. We kick off our show by sharing our thoughts on Forza Horizon 5 from Playground Games – a game that's cross-gen in nature but still manages to fully exercise the latest in console and PC hardware.

There's a huge amount to digest in the content we were shown, but the headlines are clear enough – an unprecedented level of detail in Playground's latest open world, right down to the individual needles of each cactus, Crysis-level jungle density (complete with freshly minted volumetric lighting) and a sense of scale both at close and long range – there are some truly extraordinary vista shots here with phenomenal draw distance. Car rendering is of the quality you'd expect, plus hardware-accelerated ray tracing is in – albeit just for the non-gameplay Forza Vista sections. We're impressed enough with this one to dissect it a little more closely and we'll be returning to that in future coverage.

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