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Microsoft Weekly: Paint in the Microsoft Store, Age of Empires IV, and Surface updates
by Florin Bodnarescu
A number of Surface firmware updates, an overdue appearance of Paint in the Microsoft Store, and a celebration of the venerable RTS series that is Age of Empires were all in the news this week. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of April 4 - 10.
Paint in the Microsoft Store
We’ll start with some Windows 10 and Paint news, as the Redmond giant has released yet another Insider build to testers.
Part of the co_release branch – and live in the Dev channel right now -, build 21354 has support for a number of new news and interests personalization options, some Display Settings improvements, the organization of admin and system tools under a new Windows Tools folder, and more. If you want to clean install this build, ISO images are also available.
Yet another somewhat interesting (and overdue) step is the availability of Snipping Tool and Paint in the Microsoft Store. The latter is especially surprising given that at one point Microsoft really wanted folks to transition to Paint 3D. That seems to no longer be the case.
For something that’s going to be here a little sooner than the above, feel free to check out our run-down of what’s coming in Windows 10 version 21H1.
Age of Empires IV
Arguably the biggest gaming news of the week was the long-awaited gameplay reveal for Age of Empires IV. As part of a bigger celebration of the venerable RTS series, Microsoft took the wraps off a couple new civilizations for the forthcoming game, as well as an extended gameplay look, new mechanics, and perhaps more importantly, a release window: fall 2021.
The good news didn’t stop there, as the firm also unveiled that Age of Empires II and III Definitive Editions are set to get new expansions – both free and paid -, including a new U.S. civilization for AoE III, and much more.
On the update front, Halo: MCC Season 6 is now available, Arkane’s Deathloop has been hit with another delay, moving its release date to September 14, and the ever-present Deals with Gold have now been enhanced thanks to the Spring Sale. Games on offer include Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Wreckfest, We Happy Few, and more.
Last but not least, there is Game Pass news to discuss too, as NHL 21, GTA V, Zombie Army 4, and more are headed for the subscription. Perhaps most surprising of all, MLB The Show 21, a PlayStation Studios-published title, is also coming to Game Pass on launch day, April 20.
It’s been a relatively busy week in terms of Surface news, with a number of models in the range getting firmware updates and other various quality of life improvements.
To start, there’s the Surface Book 2, the graphics performance of which has been enhanced by its latest set of updates, while the Surface Studio 2 has received more general enhancements targeting security and system stability.
Flipping over to the Pro range, the Surface Pro 6 also received some stability-improving updates, with the Pro 7 nabbing some camera experience tweaks thanks to its new updates. The latter was also featured in the company’s most recent ad, taking aim at the iPad Pro’s heavy keyboard.
Finally, the Surface Laptop 4 is set to debut April 27 as per a new leak, with the new models offering both Intel and AMD CPUs in the 13.5 and 15-inch form factors. Pricing starts at €1,499 for the Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD version of the 13.5-inch model and €1,149 for the entry-level Ryzen 5 version, which comes with half the storage space. On the 15-inch side, the Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512 GB SSD version will set you back €1,999, while the entry-level Ryzen 7 version comes in at €1,499.
The leak above does hold some water as drivers and firmware updates for the Surface Laptop 4 have already showed up on Microsoft’s website.
Defender for Endpoint is now GA for Windows 10 on ARM devices. A new sharing experience for Power BI will be launched soon. Switching to things already available, Power BI Premium and Pro now have object-level security capabilities. A new Cloud Services model is now available in Azure. Dynamics 365 and Power Platform 2021 release wave 1 is now live. SQL Server Big Data Clusters CU10 has brought a number of new capabilities. Microsoft has highlighted a number of new Microsoft 365 features for consumers. Edge Dev build 91.0.845.2 is now out, bringing minor improvements. LinkedIn has denied reports of a data breach affecting 500 million users. You will soon be able to earn Microsoft Rewards points by using Microsoft Search. OneDrive apps on Android and iOS have gotten a host of new features, with the Windows sync client gaining 64-bit support. Logging off
To end, we’ll take a look at Microsoft’s explanation for last week’s Azure outage.
As you may remember, there was a pretty serious Azure outage on April 1, which affected services ranging from Xbox Live to Office 365.
While the company initially released a brief explanation as to why this had happened, pointing to DNS issues, it has now provided a more detailed explanation.
As per the company, there was an unusual surge in Azure DNS queries from all over the world, which should have been mitigated via “layers of caches and traffic shaping”. However, due to an error in the Azure DNS service code, this entire operation was made less efficient.
Though the issues started at 9:21PM UTC, by 10PM Microsoft’s cloud services had been fixed. As a result of this, the company has fixed the aforementioned DNS code bug and has updated the logic on its mitigation systems to prevent future excessive DNS retries, which were the cause of this massive outage.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
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Age of Empires II and III Definitive Editions are getting more expansions
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Microsoft and the development teams behind Age of Empires today held a Fan Preview event showcasing what's next for the franchise. In addition to revealing the release window and new footage of the upcoming Age of Empires IV, the event also revealed information regarding the future of Age of Empires II and III Definitive Editions.
Starting with Age of Empires II, the popular entry is gaining another expansion as part of the Definitive Edition's development by World’s Edge. The behemoth real-time strategy game is receiving the eastern Europe-focused Dawn of the Dukes expansion this summer, which will deliver new campaigns and other elements that will be revealed later.
The developer is also working on a new cooperative mode for the game's historical battles that will arrive via a free update later this year. Handpicked campaign missions and historical battles will be delivered for players to tackle with their friends for the first time.
Meanwhile, Age of Empires III is slated to receive its first major content update, with The United States civilization being delivered. This new civilization will feature "a new home city, nine new units, a new age-up mechanic, and more." Moreover, for a limited time, players will be able to claim this U.S. civilization for free by completing an in-game community challenge. Otherwise, the content will cost $4.99 to purchase.
The Definitive Edition development team is working on a new expansion for Age of Empires III as well. While details are scarce, the expansion will feature African civilizations and is slated to release later this year.
All content announced today is heading to Age of Empires II and III Definitive Edition players across Steam, Microsoft Store, and Xbox Game Pass for PC.
Age of Empires IV launches fall 2021, new gameplay and civilizations shown off
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The upcoming fourth entry to the Age of Empires real-time strategy series was shown off today at the Fan Preview event, as promised. The highly-anticipated title also received a launch window for the first time, with Relic Entertainment announcing a Fall 2021 release plan for Windows.
As for the gameplay, this is the first time that footage from a player perspective has been released, and today's reveal covered new gameplay, campaigns, and more. Catch the extended look above.
Many elements from the series' most popular entry, Age of Empires II, seem to be present in Age of Empires IV, at least in the early look given today. Aside from glimpses at the unique looks of each civilization, material gathering, and combat (with a sneak peek at naval elements), some new features like hiding troops in trees for ambushing were revealed here as well.
Age of Empires IV will include eight civilizations at launch, and today's preview unveiled Delhi Sultanate and Chinese as two new civilizations heading in, which join the Mongols and the English that were announced previously. Four historical campaigns and asymmetrical civilization designs were also confirmed today.
There is good news for those looking to get into the game before the official launch this fall, as Relic is looking to kick off an Age of Empires IV closed beta soon. The developer urged interested players to sign up as an Age Insider on its official website for a chance to gain access. Age of Empires IV is releasing on Steam and Microsoft Store for Windows and as part of the Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription on day one.
Grand Theft Auto V, MLB The Show 21, NHL 21, and more head to Xbox Game Pass
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The games that Xbox Game Pass subscribers can look forward to receiving in the first half of April was revealed today by Microsoft. The incoming experiences include Grand Theft Auto V for Xbox consoles, with the Rockstar title returning for a second stint in the subscription program following its removal in May last year.
Sports fans can also look forward to Sony San Diego Studio's MLB The Show 21 and Electronic Art's NHL 21 (via EA Play) this month.
Here are all the incoming games and platforms they are landing on:
Grand Theft Auto V (Cloud and Console) – April 8 Zombie Army 4: Dead War (Cloud, Console, and PC) – April 8 Disneyland Adventures (Cloud) – April 8 Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure (Cloud) – April 8 NHL 21 (Console) EA Play – April 12 Rain on Your Parade (Cloud, Console, and PC) – April 15 Pathway (PC) – April 15 MLB The Show 21 (Cloud and Console) – April 20 Several games are being removed from the subscription soon as well, with a majority of them being older generation sports games from EA's catalog. Here's everything that's leaving:
Moreover, Microsoft recently enabled cloud play for a range of classic Xbox and Xbox 360 titles from the Xbox Backward Compatibility program. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members can now play the initial batch of games, including Banjo-Kazooie, Fable II, Fallout: New Vegas, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Viva Piñata, and others, on Android phones and tablets.
With the first wave out of the way, expect another round of games to be announced for Xbox Game Pass across Xbox consoles and PC in around two weeks. Going by previous occurrences, there may be some stealth drops along the way as well.
By Usama Jawad96
PSA: Microsoft may have sent you Store credit to spend on the Spring Sale
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft's Spring Sale is well underway with the company offering up to 75% off on Xbox titles and up to 50% off on media content on the Microsoft Store. Notable deals include DOOM Eternal Deluxe Edition for $29.69, Red Dead Redemption 2 for $26.99, and Star Wars: Squadrons for $19.99, among others. It now appears that the company is also sending out complimentary gift cards to some people to spend on the sale.
Numerous users have reported on Twitter that they have received messages from Microsoft on Xbox which contain complimentary $10 Store cards. Although the credit can be redeemed until April 30 and has to be spent within 90 days after redemption, the implied messaging from Microsoft is that it wants you to spend it on game purchases on the Xbox Spring Sale.
On our side, we also noticed that we received a similar "surprise" in a promotional email from Microsoft a couple of days ago that contained a redeemable Microsoft Store card code. However, visiting the URL now showed that the gift cards are no longer available.
While the distribution of credit appears to be quite random, we recommend that you check both your emails as well as your Xbox messages to see whether you have been graced by Microsoft's goodwill. The company is likely banking on the possibility that once you receive free credits, you'll visit the Microsoft Store to purchase something and end up spending your own money too. However, given the wide variety of deals on offer, that's not necessarily a bad thing - provided you don't go over budget, of course. You can check out Xbox Spring Sale deals over here and discounts on movies and TV shows here.