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Microsoft Weekly: A round of Windows leaks, Xbox mini fridges, and hybrid work
by Florin Bodnarescu
In the last seven days we’ve seen the set of E3 2021 announcements from Microsoft – including the Xbox Mini Fridge -, the leaking of a Windows 11 ISO, and a number of other bits of news. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of June 13 - 19.
A round of Windows leaks
The week started in what the Redmond firm could call not ideal conditions, since screenshots of the yet-to-be announced Windows 11 emerged. A little later that same day, the situation got even more interesting as an ISO of build 21996.1 made its way onto the web.
Naturally, we got our hands on it and have chosen to highlight a number of the OS’s new features – like the Windows 10X-esque centered taskbar icons, rounded corners, or the translucent UI (in some places) – via either screenshots of the desktop UI, the OOBE, the new window snapping UI, the new set of wallpapers, and more.
It does seem that out of all, the Home version requires an internet connection to complete setup, but luckily there’s a workaround. In case you want to test this out yourself, you might want to be quick as Microsoft is already issuing DMCA complaints to take down the leaked ISO.
We won’t have long to wait until an official announcement though, with the dedicated set of events scheduled for June 24 at 11AM ET and June 24 at 3PM ET (the latter of which is aimed at developers). On that day we might also see the performance boots that the OS brings, especially for big.LITTLE x86 CPUs – as shown in a set of tests.
Xbox mini fridges
As is tradition, Microsoft held its annual E3 event on the Sunday just before the event’s kickoff, and on this occasion, it was joined by the Bethesda folks (the parent company of which it finalized the acquisition of this year).
To further emphasize the above, the showcase even started with Starfield, Bethesda’s first new IP in years. Powered by the Creation Engine 2, the title showcased an in-game cinematic sequence and perhaps more surprisingly, a release date as well.
The sci-fi game is coming November 11, 2022 (exactly 11 years after the release of Skyrim) and yes, it will be exclusive to Microsoft platforms.
While we’re on the subject of Bethesda, there was also some new ESO and Fallout 76 content announced, along with the fact that Game Pass is getting a number of the missing titles from the publisher, alongside titles like the entire Yakuza series, and even Turtle Rock’s Back 4 Blood on day one. Also in the Bethesda camp was a new IP from Arkane Austin, dubbed Redfall. The co-op vampire hunting game is coming summer 2022, unsurprisingly also to Game Pass day one.
We’ll touch on the fact that Injustice: Gods Among Us and Shadows Awakening are now free to claim, and that there’s in fact a rather good selection of Deals with Gold to peruse, while also mentioning that game stories is now a supported feature in the Xbox app and that the June update for the console has brought party chat accessibility options, among other things.
Speaking of other things, Battlefield 2042 gameplay was shown off during the game showcase, as was an interspersed story / gameplay trailer for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl (which lands April 28 next year, also in Game Pass), a cinematic announce trailer for co-op Xbox exclusive Contraband from Avalanche Studios, a cheeky meta cinematic announce trailer for The Outer Worlds 2, and more.
Alternate-universe sci-fi RPG Atomic Heart got yet another trailer at the event – sans release date -, Diablo II: Resurrected made an appearance too – showcasing its launch day of September 23 -, and Age of Empires IV got its long overdue launch date of October 28, available across PC and Game Pass.
In additional unexpected news, Sea of Thieves got a Pirates of the Caribbean crossover, bringing Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones and crew to the game thanks to a new original story dubbed A Pirate’s Life, which is coming for free to the tile on June 22.
Another game that got a release date was Flight Simulator, which lands on Series X|S consoles on July 27 – and has just gotten its World Update V, with a free Top Gun expansion coming this fall -, as well as Forza Horizon 5. The latter is set in Mexico and rather unexpectedly, lands on November 9 this year.
Of course, after the advent of Craig memes from last year, it was expected that 343 would show an updated look at Halo Infinite, complete with Joseph Staten on stage, a highlight of the game’s story and multiplayer, and an announcement that they will launch together this holiday. Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer is also adding personal AIs for players, among other things.
Finally, the option to make your controllers more personal is now back, as Microsoft has relaunched the Xbox Design Lab with support for the new controller. That said, it’s not the only hardware announcement that the company made at this event.
After rumors of a streaming stick started circulating, folks assumed that the ‘one more thing’ at the end would be this. However, the Redmond giant leaned heavily into the memes and has announced it’ll make an Xbox Mini Fridge (shaped like the Series X).
Yes, it’s real, and yes, it’s coming holiday 2021 – even outside the United States.
Slotting just between the Xbox E3 showcase and the Windows event next week was a virtual presentation focused on hybrid work.
At this event, Microsoft has announced new Teams Rooms features like a “front row” layout for meetings, improved video layouts across multiple screens, new Together Mode scenes on the Surface Hub, and much, much more. Naturally, these features will be rolled out to Insiders first.
On the subject of Teams, the firm has additionally integrated Headspace for mindfulness exercises and to boost personal wellbeing in remote work situations. Worthy of mention is also the fact that inline chat message translation is now available for Teams on Android.
Last but not least, Whiteboard has received a redesign, which aims to help folks collaborate better in hybrid environments.
Edge Dev build 93.0.916.1 is now out, with a number of bug fixes. Better sharing and file picking were among the enhancements that arrived to OneDrive in May. Microsoft has elected Satya Nadella as chairman of its board of directors. Visual Studio 2022 Preview 1 is now available for Windows. Logging off
We end with a bit of an interesting bug related to the newly added News and Interests taskbar widget.
For folks running one of the various flavors of Windows 10 that have this feature, (1909 and up), there are instances in which the News and Interests text and icon appear blurry.
The issue has now been acknowledged by the firm as occurring on “certain display configurations”. Of course, which ones these are is set to remain a mystery. What’s also going to remain a mystery is when Microsoft plans to fix it, as the only time frame indication given was that it’ll happen in an “upcoming release”.
If you couldn’t care less about the widget, it can thankfully be turned off.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
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Breath of the Wild sequel launches in 2022, explores the skies of Hyrule
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The highly anticipated sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was announced by Nintendo in 2019, and today during its Direct presentation, the company finally ended its two-year information drought with new gameplay footage and a release window. The company is planning to launch the entry sometime in 2022 for the Nintendo Switch.
While the launch window is broad, fans got to see a good chunk of gameplay today to make the wait a little bit easier, see the trailer below.
Hyrule returns in the sequel, but instead of just roaming its lands, Link will be now taking to the skies as well for expanded vertical gameplay. We get to see a vast number of floating islands with vegetation and some sort of structures on them.
A couple of brand-new enemies and upgraded variants of classics can also be seen, and to compensate, Link is also getting some upgrades to his arsenal. The trailer shows off what looks to be a new arm for our protagonist made of Sheikah technology, a time-reversing power, and a flame thrower shield. Plus, his hair is down this time. There is also a shot of Link melting through a solid floor, but this may be an environmental mechanic instead of a built-in power.
The Legend of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma appeared on the show to talk about the highly anticipated game, which still doesn't have an official name yet, saying development has been steadily progressing in the two years since the game's announcement, and that the launch is currently planned for next year.
Eidos-Montréal is making a Guardians of the Galaxy game, launches this October
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Square Enix today announced another Marvel superhero game coming out of one of its studios, joining Avengers from Crystal Dynamics. This time, it is the Guardians of the Galaxy that's being turned into video game form, and Eidos-Montréal is developing. The studio is most known for its RPG series Deus Ex, but here, it's all about third-person superhero action while traveling across the galaxy.
This is a completely single-player action game following an original story, and the studio has confirmed there won't be any microtransactions or DLC here.
Interestingly, you will only be taking the role of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill here, the self-proclaimed leader of the Guardians, while the rest of the ragtag team including Rocket, Groot, Drax and Gamora is there for support both in combat and when making dialog choices that continue the storyline.
“The Eidos-Montréal team is honored to have the opportunity to work on such an iconic franchise alongside our trusted collaborators at Marvel Entertainment,” said David Anfossi, Head of Studio at Eidos-Montréal. “Our teams are known for revisiting IPs and bringing their own twists and craft to the stories and the art surrounding them. As you will experience, it’s no different for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.”
During combat, players will be able to use Star-Lord's jet boots for quick dodges and short hovers while utilizing his Element Blasters for dealing damage. Special moves that involve the rest of the Guardians can also be triggered while in combat. Eidos-Montréal is also promising a "killer soundtrack" that is a mixture of hits straight from the 80s and original music.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has an October 26, 2021, launch date attached to it, and as for platforms, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 are gaining the title. It will also be available for cloud play via the GeForce NOW platform. Pre-orders are now live.
Turtle Rock's Back 4 Blood is coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Turtle Rock Studios, the minds behind the Left 4 Dead series, is currently working on its next project Back 4 Blood. The game had a presence at the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase today, both revealing its PVP mode, and that the zombie shooter will be a day one Xbox Game Pass title.
In more good news for Xbox fans, unlike a few other high-profile launch day releases on the service, both its console and PC variants are getting the game simultaneously.
The Back 4 Blood's PVP mode, named Swarm, will be familiar to those who enjoyed Versus mode from Left 4 Dead, where humans and special zombies go head-to-head for a competitive experience. See the unveil trailer below.
First unveiled last year, Back 4 Blood arrives as another cooperative play-focused first-person shooter akin to the studio's previous projects. As a refresher, the zombie shooter lets four players team up against hordes of "infected" that range from the regular walkers (or runners in this case) to special types with various abilities. Eight survivors fill up the human ranks. Each comes with unique abilities like recovering stamina with kills and faster ADS speeds, so players can find a character that fits their playstyle.
The Warner Bros. published title is definitely a big grab for Xbox Game Pass. Considering it is a $60 game that optimally needs four players, going the subscription route with friends may sound like a very inviting option for Xbox players.
Back 4 Blood is launching on October 12 across PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
Age of Empires IV launches on October 28 across PC and Xbox Game Pass
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
After a 16-year break, Age of Empires is returning on October 28 with its fourth entry. The release date announcement arrived during the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase today alongside a new trailer, seen above, revealing a little more gameplay from the highly anticipated real-time strategy game.
Compared to the previous Age of Empires IV gameplay reveal, you can already see some improvements have been implemented in the latest trailer after feedback. For instance, the weapons and arrows have been scaled down to fit units better, plus the new army colors make them much easier to distinguish from each other.
Developer Relic Entertainment had already unveiled the English, Chinese, Mongols, and Delhi Sultanate as launch civilizations previously, and now it has been revealed Abbasid Dynasty and the French will also be joining the fray. As for playstyles, the Abbasid Dynasty is focused on technology as well as dominating with their Camel Archers and Riders, while the French will be all about trading and late game supremacy with help from their special units the Royal Knights.
There will be eight civilizations in total to experience when the game launches, so we still have two more reveals to go.
Ahead of the October launch, Relic is opening a beta program. Anyone interested in jumping in can become an Age Insider by heading here.
Pre-orders are now live across Steam and Microsoft Store. Xbox Game Pass subscribers are also getting the game on day one. A Digital Deluxe Edition is also available for pre-order now, which comes with bonus content like the original soundtrack, a handy chart with unit counters, a digital painting by Craig Mullens, and in-game cosmetic content.