Microsoft Weekly: Gaming advanced, insiders entranced, OneDrive enhanced

As it has the habit of doing, yet another week has flown by, bringing with it a barrage of news – be it positive or not so much. Some progress on the gaming front, a few 19H1-related things, a number of OneDrive announcements and more can be found in your Microsoft digest for the week of November 3 -9.

Gaming advanced

To cap off its rather calm week on the gaming front, the Redmond giant announced a bit of a bombshell, especially for cRPG fans.

Arguably the biggest news came through rather late in the week, with the announcement at X018 that both Obsidian and inXile would be joining Microsoft Studios. This is essentially a reunification of the Black Isle / Interplay team of old – or at least most of it -, even though Microsoft stressed that the two studios would remain independent entities within the organization.

Obsidian of course is made up of quite a few of the folks that worked on Fallout and its sequel, as well as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. More recently, they’re known for Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and their original IP Pillars of Eternity. InXile was created by Interplay founder Brian Fargo, and is known for its Bard’s Tale series, as well as Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Wasteland 2. All in all, a very interesting play by Redmond.

Also at X018, it was announced that Xbox Game Pass would add another 16 titles to its roster, including Thief of Thieves on November 10, PUBG on November 12, Agents of Mayhem, MXGP3, Thomas was Alone on November 22, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on December 17, Ori and the Blind Forest on December 20, Kingdom Two Crowns at an unspecified time in December, Ori and the Will of the Wisps whenever it launches in 2019, as well as After Charge, Supermarket Shriek, Pathologic 2, Secret Neighbor, The Good Life, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and Void Bastards all on their respective launch days.

Next on the list of announcements was keyboard and mouse support on the Xbox One, specifically for these 15 titles: Bomber Crew, Children of Morta, DayZ, Deep Rock Galactic, Minion Masters, Moonlighter, Strange Brigade, Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Vigor, Warface, Warframe – which we already knew about -, Wargroove, War Thunder, X-Morph Defense, and Fortnite. For certain games, like the latter, players will be matched to ones that are using the same control scheme (so no controller vs. keyboard).

Fans of the Backward Compatibility list will be thrilled to know that four new titles have been added, three of which are from the Final Fantasy series. They are Final Fantasy XIII – which isn’t available for purchase - Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and Civilization Revolution. Joining them are Tom Clancy’s EndWar and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., the last of which you can’t buy.

In terms of expansion content for existing titles, State of Decay 2 will get its Zedhunter update next week on November 16, complete with new weapons, followed by Forza Horizon 4’s Fortune Island on December 13. The latter is Horizon 4’s first such content drop and is billed as the largest expansion Playground Games has ever made. It includes ravines, dirt racing on cliffs, the aurora borealis to drive under and of course, the hunt for treasure. Ultimate Edition owners get it for free, as do those with the Expansion Bundle. Game Pass subscribers can grab it via a bundle or just the expansion itself at a 10% discount.

In further first-party news, Rare’s Sea of Thieves will get an Arena competitive mode early next year, arriving for free to all owners of the game. What won’t be free is Crackdown 3, the system requirements for which surfaced this week, along with – hopefully – its final release date: February 15, 2019.

While you wait for the third in the series and if you’re quick, you can grab Crackdown for free on the Xbox Store. And since stores were mentioned, Sunset Overdrive’s achievements popped up on the Microsoft Store, further hinting at the title’s possible PC port.

Also in terms of things that made an appearance – or rather, reappearance – we have the Shopping Cart and Wishlist features for the Microsoft Store, two enhancements that are finally starting to be reintroduced.

Insiders entranced

Despite the rather sorry state of 1809 and its ever-pending re-release, Microsoft is going right ahead with the development of 19H1.

The latest Fast ring build, namely 18277, has brought a number of Focus assist improvements – so you can control distractions –, an easier way to manage your quick actions in Action Center, new Emoji, improvements to High DPI support and Windows Security, a redesigned Japanese IME, and a call to action to try the Cortana + Alexa interoperability. Of course, some fixes came along with those aforementioned features, including but not limited to fixed bugs relating to File Explorer, WSL, Timeline crashing explorer.exe, that OTF font library issue from a few builds ago, and the KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED green screen of death.

As is customary with these things, some bugs still persist. Some users might see the update status cycling between Getting Things Ready, Downloading, and Installing – complete with its 0x8024200d error code. PDFs in Edge may not display correctly, possible blue screens on PCs that take advantage of dual-booting, visual bugs in Dark Mode for Sticky Notes, as well as the missing Dynamic Lock setting from the Sign-in options. Also, your Settings page will crash if you change your account password or PIN.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as 19H1 is set to add support for WPA3 and a call mirroring feature to perhaps supplement the existing Your Phone app. Then again, as the former isn’t available in any of the Insider builds, it’s too early to say.

Some of the strings found that are related to this mysterious app were things like ‘Transferred’, or ‘Fold the device over to return the call’. The last one in particular is kind of reminiscent of the ‘Flip to silence’ feature present on some of the older Lumias, and the folding bit could very well be hinting at Microsoft’s Andromeda device.

Another thing to look forward to in the next Windows 10 feature update is the separation of Windows Search and Cortana. Though it didn’t choose a predictably clunky name for its assistant, Microsoft wasn’t successful in convincing many folks to use its ‘personal digital assistant’, an assistant which was repositioned to be more productivity-oriented.

Nevertheless, to hold you over until all this comes to pass, you may want to check out build 18272 of the 19H1 SDK, or Microsoft Launcher 5.0 on Android which just shed its beta tag.

OneDrive enhanced

If you make use of Microsoft’s cloud storage service, you may want to check out some of the improvements coming rather soon.

First off, for those on Windows there is some good news. Remember how on macOS the sync client got dark theme support due to the release of Mojave? Well, that same dark theme may be headed your way too if you’re using Microsoft’s OS, though the rollout seems to be quite slow. In any case, version 18.212.1021.0007 is the one to be on the lookout for if you enjoy the darker side of UI design.

What’s definitely coming sooner rather than later is a new Mobile Capture feature which allows you to add metadata for the pictures you take. Upon scanning a set of meeting notes, you will now also be prompted to share them with the folks present at said meeting, there’s a new Recent View that will roll out to OneDrive.com, and you can now manage the access to your files. Specifically, you can remove users from links shared with only a subset of people, and Outlook users can request access to a certain file via Actionable Requests. All these will start rolling out this month, with a completed rollout slated for December.

While we’re on the subject of additions, Office Mac insiders were treated with a new ‘to-do’ feature in Word, which enhances the already existing comments capability. This will allow you to click and more easily navigate to a spot in the document related to a specific to-do entry. Furthermore, you can now @-mention colleagues to notify them about a certain task. Though it’s currently limited to the Mac insider preview, this feature should make its way to Office 365 across Windows, Mac, and web quite soon.

What is also going to happen relatively soon is the end of support of OneDrive client on macOS 10.10 (Yosemite) and 10.11 (El Capitan) on February 1, 2019. Microsoft of course recommends you update to the latest version of Apple’s OS if you want to take advantage of its cloud service sync client.

If only Microsoft took its own advice about unsupported software.

The Fast ring

Hot corner

Hot corner is a section of The Fast ring dedicated to highlighting five Microsoft-related stories that haven’t been covered over here, but might be of interest.

Logging off

To end this column we take a look at some of the negative developments surrounding Windows 10 in the past seven days.

The biggest news that came out near the end of the work week was the fact that Windows 10 Pro licenses were experiencing deactivation en masse. While initially only very few users were thought to be affected, the number of reports increased, and Microsoft finally acknowledged that it was an issue with its activation servers. This meant that system properties would report Pro users as having a Home license, a message which the company advised users to ignore.

Microsoft says that the issue should be fixed, though that hasn’t stopped the dedicated thread on the Community forums from swelling to over 45 pages, with reports of watermarks present still coming in a day or two after the reported fix.

While the problem above was resolved rather quickly, Windows 10 1809 – the October (?) 2018 Update – is still missing in action. Our very own Rich Woods remarked on Microsoft’s lack of communication, calling the silence on the update’s status ‘deafening’. Then again, that pesky new volume mixer may be to blame for this silence.

Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to check them out here.

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