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Xbox Developer_Direct 2024 as it happened: News and trailers for Hellblade 2, Avowed, and more

 Xbox Developer_Direct 2024.
Xbox Developer_Direct 2024.

It's only been a little over a month since we saw plenty of exciting game reveals and trailers during The Game Awards, but for Xbox fans, there was already another show to look forward to: Xbox Developer_Direct 2024. Like the first iteration of the event that debuted near the start of 2023, this one gave players in-depth looks at several Microsoft first-party exclusives coming to Xbox and PC later this year.

Compared to larger showcases like Summer Game Fest and Gamescom Opening Night Live, the Xbox Developer_Direct is smaller in scope, with the show lasting roughly 45 minutes. However, that shorter runtime meant a tighter, focused look at "upcoming titles, how they’re being created, and who’s creating them," with none of the advertisements typically sprinkled throughout lengthier presentations. It was also fully presented by Xbox Game Studios developers, rather than by a host.

This year, we got to check out more of MachineGames' Indiana Jones game, Obsidian Entertainment's highly anticipated fantasy RPG Avowed, Oxide Games' upcoming 4X strategy title Ara: History Untold, and Ninja Theory's long-awaited sequel Senua's Saga: Hellblade II, along with a surprise look at Square Enix's Visions of Mana that's coming to Xbox. Notably, before the Xbox Developer_Direct show kicked off on January 18, 2024 at 12:00 p.m. PT / 3:00 p.m. ET, Blizzard also hosted a Diablo 4 Developer Update Livestream. Then, shortly after the conclusion of the event, ZeniMax Online Studios' revealed the new The Elder Scrolls Online DLC, Gold Road.

All in all, it was an incredibly exciting day for Xbox fans — especially since everything shown at the Direct other than Visions of Mana will be available day one on Xbox Game Pass. Team Windows Central was there for all of it, providing live reports and commentary on all the biggest and breaking news right here. You can find all of it down below, so make sure you check it out if you're looking for a recap.

Watch Xbox Developer_Direct 2024 here:

Latest Xbox Developer_Direct 2024 announcements

Hello everyone, and welcome to Windows Central's live coverage of the Xbox Developer_Direct 2024 show! I have to say, I'm very glad that Microsoft seems to be making this an annual event, as the streamlined style of this showcase feels like a breath of fresh air compared to other gaming presentations. Team Windows Central collectively disliked The Game Awards and the way it prioritized ads and Hollywood celebrity appearances over letting developers actually talk about the games they've made, so an event like this that puts them front and center is a real palate cleanser.

I, along with my colleagues, will be covering the Developer_Direct live from start to finish, so make sure you stick with us as the event unfolds. Also, we'll be bringing you plenty of commentary and analysis before, during, and after the show — and maybe even a few spicy hot takes, too. — Brendan Lowry, Gaming Contributor

Don't expect any Xbox shadow drops during Developer_Direct

In-game screenshot of Hi-Fi RUSH.
In-game screenshot of Hi-Fi RUSH.

While the shadow drop of Tango Gameworks' bombastic rhythm game Hi-Fi Rush during the first Developer_Direct show was a wonderful surprise, Microsoft says you shouldn't get your hopes up for a similar bombshell release during this year's presentation. In an Xbox Wire blog post published a few days ago, the publisher confirmed that there won't be one.

"All the games in this year’s Developer_Direct will be arriving later, with more details to be shared in the program," wrote Xbox Wire Editor-in-Chief Joe Skrebels.

That's a bit disappointing, though I suppose surprise shadow drops wouldn't really be a surprise if we had reason to expect one during every single showcase. Plus, keep in mind that every game shown during the event is expected to launch in 2024, so we likely won't have to wait too long to get our hands on them. Fingers crossed. — Brendan Lowry

What to expect from Xbox Developer_Direct 2024

Avowed
Avowed

The Xbox Developer_Direct 2024 show is just about two hours away as I write this, and naturally, everyone is wondering what exactly we'll see from MachineGames, Obsidian Entertainment, Oxide Games, and Ninja Theory on each of their respective titles. Of course, there's no way to know exact specifics until the event actually happens, but we do have a general idea of what to expect thanks to some details Microsoft gave when it announced the presentation. These include the following:

  • The showcase's first game shown will likely be MachineGames' Indiana Jones game that was originally announced back in 2021. It's said to be an action-adventure title in which you'll take control of the beloved archaeologist directly. During the show, MachineGames will "showcase more than 10 minutes of game and developer insights, including details about the game’s setting and story, how fans will actually play as Indy, additional details from his next globe-trotting adventure, and the premiere of the first gameplay trailer."

  • Obsidian is expected to show off Avowed — a fantasy RPG set in the Pillars of Eternity universe that looks a whole lot like The Elder Scrolls — next. Lots of combat gameplay was presented when Avowed's official gameplay trailer premiered during the Xbox Games Showcase 2023, but during this event, players will see "how Obsidian’s expertise in building worlds with deep themes, dynamic gameplay, and thoughtful reactivity come to life in Avowed."

  • We'll also get a full look at Oxide Games' Ara: History Untold, a 4X historical strategy game built by devs that previously worked on beloved titles in the genre like Civilization V. Oxide will "share more details about the inspiration, key features, and road ahead" for Ara, as well as reveal "exclusive new gameplay."

  • Finally, I anticipate that a Ninja Theory deep dive on Senua's Saga: Hellblade II will cap off the show. Though details ahead of the showcase have been particularly sparse, we do know that the studio will "speak to the ambition and meticulous care involved in creating Senua’s journey of survival." Hopefully we get to see more gameplay, too, as not much of it has been shown thus far.

It's worth noting that a few minutes after the Developer_Direct showcase concludes, ZeniMax Online Studios will reveal the next "Chapter" for The Elder Scrolls Online at 1:00 p.m. PT / 4:00 p.m. ET. This will include "the new zone, storyline, and other major features coming in the game’s biggest update this year." Since its release way back in 2014, the expansive fantasy MMO has grown to become one of the most popular online games.

Curious about what Activision Blizzard, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, is working on next? We are, too, but Microsoft says we won't hear more about its next projects until later this year. — Brendan Lowry

How to watch the Xbox Developer_Direct 2024

Xbox Developer_Direct hero
Xbox Developer_Direct hero

Hoping to catch the Xbox Developer_Direct live, but not sure how or where to tune in? Don't worry, we've got you covered. My colleague Rebecca Spear put together an in-depth explainer here, but in short, you can watch the livestream live through any of the following Xbox and Bethesda channels on YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook:

In addition to these primary locations, the Xbox Developer_Direct will also be livestreamed to regional Xbox and Bethesda channels around the world. You can watch it on Valve's PC game distribution client Steam, too, and it'll appear on Bilibili for Chinese viewers on Friday, January 19.

If you're not able to watch the show, Microsoft says an official recap will be published as soon as it's over (including localized versions), along with detailed Xbox Wire blog posts. Of course, Team Windows Central will be covering all the news live as it happens right here, too, so stay tuned! — Brendan Lowry

The Xbox Developer_Direct is only about an hour away now, and I'm starting to feel some serious hype about getting a closer look at Avowed. Of the four games that we know we're seeing today, Obsidian's new RPG is undoubtedly the one I'm looking forward to the most.

Now, don't get me wrong — an Indiana Jones game from the Wolfenstein devs sounds like it could be uniquely awesome, and I'm excited to see more of both Ara: History Untold and Hellblade II. But ever since playing through Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords in complete amazement as a kid, Obsidian Entertainment has remained one of my all-time favorite developers. Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds, Grounded, Pentiment — this studio consistently puts out banger after banger, and I'm sure Avowed will blow my mind, too.

Anyway, now is a great time to stretch and grab some food before the show, so make sure you do so while you've still got some time. — Brendan Lowry

Just 30 minutes away now! I'm back in my office chair — fueled by cold pizza leftovers and diet soda — and I'm prepped to bring you all detailed live coverage of 2024's first major gaming event. I hope you're ready for a great show, because there's no doubt in my mind that MachineGames, Obsidian, Oxide, and Ninja Theory have exciting things to show off today. — Brendan Lowry

Diablo 4 Season of the Construct: Here's what's coming

Diablo 4
Diablo 4

Ahead of the Developer_Direct show, Blizzard Entertainment showed off Diablo 4's upcoming Season of the Construct in a new Developer Update livestream, complete with in-depth looks at its story, gameplay content, and more. It's scheduled to begin on January 23, 2024, and while my colleague Jennifer Young has put together a very detailed recap of the livestream, I've also summarized the major bullet points here if you just want a quick-and-dirty look at what's coming.

  • Diablo 4 Season of the Construct arrives January 23, 2024.

  • The season is primarily set in underground Kehjistan, with the demon Malphas using an ancient Loom technology to control deadly robotic constructs.

  • You'll also get a construct pet yourself (and yes, you can pet it).

  • These companions can be augmented with special Governing and Tuning Stones that drop, and scale with players as they level.

  • You'll primarily be fighting through new dungeon types called Vaults that are filled with deadly traps during Season of the Construct. Your rewards from these will decrease the more you fall victim to their hazards.

  • A new Overworld activity called Arcane Tremors will require players to search for cores they can use to lure out a Herald of Malphas, than kill them for rewards (including Pearls of Warding you'll need for Vault expeditions).

  • A special weekly rotating dungeon called The Gauntlet with leaderboards will arrive in Diablo 4 later in the season, but not at launch.

  • Season 3 will reduce PvP objectives, offer more seasonal rewards overall, and add several buffs for every class while nerfing some particularly OP builds.

  • There will be new Unique gear, as well as new cosmetics from the Premium Battle Pass.

  • Season 3 will also make endgame Helltides an hourly event, upping their frequency.

Make sure you check out the aforementioned article for a complete overview of everything Season of the Construct has in store for Diablo 4 players. — Brendan Lowry

Alright, here we go! Enjoy the show, everyone, and remember to stay tuned for tons of live coverage. — Brendan Lowry

Avowed was first up at Xbox Developer_Direct 2024

Avowed
Avowed

The first game of the show was Avowed, Obsidian's new fantasy RPG set in the Pillars of Eternity universe. The game's combat system was showcased in great detail, illustrating how players can switch between melee, ranged, and magic attacks rapidly in order to deal with the various threats you'll face on the battlefield. Basically, it looks like a more slick and fluid interpretation of The Elder Scrolls combat, complete with loadout options you can swap between at will. More on the game's story and speech systems shortly! — Brendan Lowry

Avowed
Avowed

Obsidian also highlighted how Avowed is built from the ground up to give players many different ways to approach conflicts beyond combat, with the world and the characters in it reacting very differently to you depending on the actions you take and the words you say. This confirms the game's design is similar to other past Obsidian RPGs, and built to support a wide variety of roleplaying decisions.

The Avowed showcase then concluded with a look at the game's varied art direction, featuring everything from bright, vibrant, and tropical lands to dark, mysterious caverns and brutal, volcanic environments. The Living Lands are incredibly diverse, and look to be an amazing world for players to explore and play around in. — Brendan Lowry

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II gets May 21 release date

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II
Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Second up during Developer_Direct was Senua's Saga: Hellblade II, which got a beautiful showcase in which developer Ninja Theory showed how it's using motion capture, audio design, consultations with health professionals, and more to shape and inform the storytelling of the long-awaited sequel. The game also got a concrete May 21, 2024 release date, and is coming to Xbox Series X|S, PC, and Xbox Game Pass. — Brendan Lowry

Surprise! Square Enix reveals Visions of Mana, coming to Xbox and PC

Visions of Mana
Visions of Mana

We've been wondering if Xbox would reveal a surprise new game during the Developer_Direct, and it looks like we were right to do so, because Square Enix showed up out of nowhere and hit us with Visions of Mana. This new entry in the high fantasy ARPG franchise looks to be an incredibly faithful addition to the series, with gorgeous vibrant colors, a rich story, and plenty of flashy combat.

Interestingly, this is the only game shown at the Developer_Direct that isn't an Xbox exclusive, and it won't be on Xbox Game Pass, either. It's scheduled to launch at some point in summer 2024, and will be available on Xbox Series X|S as well as Windows PCs. — Brendan Lowry

Ara: History Untold looks like the 4X game of our dreams

Ara: History Untold
Ara: History Untold

Oxide Games' showcase for Ara: History Untold has us convinced it'll probably be one of the best 4X strategy games ever made. The developer highlighted how players will be able to focus on any aspect of their civilization they want and still have a route towards victory, detailing how they'll also have more options than ever before to tweak and tune their societies to respond to threats or address issues. Players will even be able to move simultaneously, which eliminates long (and often boring) periods of time where you have to wait until it's your turn in other titles.

Ara: History Untold is slated to launch later this year in fall 2024, and will be exclusive to PC at first. It's unclear if it'll come to Xbox at a later date, at the moment. — Brendan Lowry

Indiana Jones and the Great Circle officially coming 2024

We've finally gotten a clear look at MachineGames' Indiana Jones game, officially titled Indiana Jones and the Great Circle. Along with a rather hilarious gameplay trailer that shows the iconic hero battling Nazis and exploring the world, the studio premiered a detailed overview of the game with tons of information. Set between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, the Great Circle follows Indy as he chases after a stolen relic across the world.

MachineGames' primary goal was to put the player in Indy's shoes, and based on all the awesome gameplay footage we got, that came across loud and clear. With his trusty whip in hand, you'll be swinging through treacherous environments, solving ancient puzzles, and more.

We don't have a narrowed-down release date yet, but it's been confirmed that Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is coming to Xbox Series X|S and PC later in 2024. — Brendan Lowry

And that's a wrap! Thanks for catching the show with us, and stay tuned for more in-depth recaps of each game shown now that the event's concluded. Also, stick around for coverage on what's next for The Elder Scrolls Online! — Brendan Lowry

Here's what Obsidian had to show for Avowed

Of the five games shown off during Xbox's Developer_Direct presentation, Avowed was the first up — and it's also the one I'm the most excited for. Developer Obsidian Entertainment put together a comprehensive eight-minute long overview to show during the event, revealing extensive details about the RPG's combat mechanics, speech and dialogue systems, world design, and more. You can watch the whole thing with the embedded video above, but if you'd prefer a quick read instead, we've got you covered with the highlights:

  • Obsidian's goal with Avowed combat is to "empower you with choice"; to that end, you have the freedom to rapidly swap between melee, ranged, and magic attacks, and combine them to create unique loadouts

  • Players will need to consider when to use heavy attacks, special attacks, blocks, and parries to counter their enemies

  • There are a wide variety of enemy types, such as defensive shield users, slow but heavy-hitting greataxe fighters, support-style foes that use healing magic, and more

  • You can create a number of different loadouts to respond to these threats appropriately, and switch to them quickly in combat

  • Quests in Avowed can be resolved in a number of different ways, and the choices you make will have lasting consequences

  • Often, quests will ask you to "make tough decisions in complication situations," with Obsidian embracing "moral nuance and gray areas"

  • Avowed is set in the Living Lands, "a continent of untamed valleys with widely varied biomes." The Living Lands are part of Eora, the world that Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity games are set in.

  • The Living Lands are very diverse, with the game often contrasting colorful, vibrant, and verdant spaces with dim, dark, and ominous or sickly ones.

Avowed is scheduled to release in fall 2024, and will be available to play on Xbox Series X|S and PC systems. It will also be available day one on Xbox Game Pass. — Brendan Lowry

Ninja Theory dives deep into Hellblade 2's development

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 — Senua grimacing.
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 — Senua grimacing.

Following Obsidian's Avowed showcase, developer Ninja Theory debuted a rich eight-minute long overview of its own for Senua's Saga: Hellblade II, the highly anticipated follow-up to the award-winning 2017 narrative action-adventure game Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. Here's a complete recap of everything the studio talked about:

  • In Hellblade 2, Senua's main goal is to thwart the Icelandic vikings who previously raided her village and are enslaving her people. In the time since the first game, she's grown to no longer fear her visions and the voices she hears

  • Senua will meet new characters during this new journey, some of which will value "her unique perspective" while others may not

  • The game primarily takes place in 10th Century Iceland, and will be as authentic to history as possible while building mythological, supernatural elements on top of that

  • Giants have plunged the land into chaos, resulting in the rise of frightening draugr warriors

  • Ninja Theory has worked with the University of Cambridge's Professor Paul Fletcher as well as individuals with lived experiences with psychosis while crafting Senua's story

  • The developer is using "a new motion capture space, bigger stage team, a stunt crew, and a new cast" to develop Hellblade II, taking "everything to the next level"

  • Combat will be more brutal and visceral than in the original game, with a strong emphasis on Senua's mortality and her fight for survival

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II is slated to release on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and on Xbox Game Pass on May 21, 2024. — Brendan Lowry

Square Enix stole the spotlight with Visions of Mana

While we didn't get any shadow drops today, the Developer_Direct wasn't without a surprise. Square Enix shocked Xbox fans with the unexpected announcement that Visions of Mana — the latest entry in the classic high fantasy action RPG series that began with Final Fantasy Adventure all the way back in 1991 — will launch on Microsoft's console. You can watch the showcase above, or check out the highlights with the bullet points below:

  • Lots of fan-favorite monsters from past Mana games will appear in Visions of Mana's world, transforming many of them from pixelated sprites into full 3D models

  • Many monsters have gotten some new, particularly frightening expressions that you'll see during combat

  • Players will be able to ride "pikuls," which are basically giant wolves, to traverse the larger regions of the game's map

  • Visions of Mana has over 100 different tracks in its score in total, including contributions from composers who've worked on past games in the franchise

  • The game also has an adaptive music system that ensures the soundtrack transitions seamlessly between exploration and battle themes

  • Visions of Mana is more action-oriented than past games, with new features like physical and magical attacks you can use while airborne

  • Elementals, which are classic Mana creatures, can help you in battles with special items

  • These items give you unique bonuses in combat, allowing you to adapt to what you're fighting and change up your playstyle

In addition to other platforms, Visions of Mana will be available on Xbox Series X|S and PC when it releases in summer 2024. Notably, this is the first time a Mana game has been playable on Microsoft's console, though it won't be on Xbox Game Pass. — Brendan Lowry

What you need to know about Ara: History Untold

Oxide Games also made quite an appearance at the show, offering fans a thorough overview of its upcoming historical 4X strategy game Ara: History Untold. Put together by veteran developers known for creating incredible titles in the genre like Civilization V, we've had our eyes on this one for quite some time — and our excitement is greater than ever after seeing what Oxide had to show off. Here's a full recap:

  • Ara's music tracks were played with over 100 different instruments, making it particularly rich with different types of sounds

  • Ara's gameplay promotes and encourages exploration and experimentation, while simultaneously challenging players to make balanced strategic decisions

  • The game features tons of different cultures, with Oxide aiming to "give players from around the world the chance to see the game reflect their unique perspective"

  • Ara's "Living World" is a procedurally generated alternate Earth that changes as players develop their civilizations, illustrating how their actions influence their surroundings

  • Ara's Prestige system scores players based on how they develop their society, with the system allowing you to win regardless of which fields you pursue

  • The game also has a deep, national-scale crafting system that adds a new gameplay element to Ara not found in other 4X games, allowing resourceful players to create valuable goods and components

  • Ara also has simultaneous turns, allowing players to make decisions at the same time in a more "real" environment rather than going in a set order

  • There will be tons of different selectable leaders with specializations in every field, and each one will come with unique abilities and bonuses

Ara: History Untold is expected to launch on PC and PC Game Pass in fall 2024. At the moment, it hasn't been announced for Xbox consoles. — Brendan Lowry

MachineGames' Indiana Jones and the Great Circle showcase

The Xbox Developer_Direct's last showcase was also its largest: MachineGames' full overview of its upcoming action-adventure game Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, executively produced by Bethesda's Todd Howard. At over 14 minutes long and full of great information, it was arguably the best presentation of the day — and we've got a full breakdown of it for you below, along with an embed of the video above if you want to watch it yourself. Here are all the juicy details we know about Indy's next adventure:

  • The overview of the game kicked off with a special new gameplay reveal trailer that showed how players will punch Nazis, narrowly escape ancient traps, and more

  • The game is ultimately about "putting you in Indy's shoes," with MachineGames choosing a first-person perspective to sell that immersion

  • Cutscenes and environmental traversal, however, will be in third-person view, giving players a way to experience Indy's beloved cinematic presence

  • Timeline-wise, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is set after Raiders of the Lost Ark, but before Last Crusade

  • The story begins at Marshall College, where Indy discovers a strange man stealing an artifact thought to be relatively insignificant. Upon visiting the Vatican to investigate, however, it becomes clear that things aren't what they seem, and the mystery eventually unravels and gives way to a globe-spanning adventure

  • There's an emphasis on puzzle-solving and creative experimentation in the gameplay, which the devs say results in "a more genuine Indy experience"

  • The game's environments include Egypt, the Himalayas, and other iconic locations

  • Gordy Haab is composing the soundtrack, and a strong effort has been made to emulate the sound and style of famous Indy composer John Williams in it

  • In addition to Indy, the game also features Gina, an investigative reporter and a second protagonist with "a personal stake" in the story

  • Emmerich Vos is the game's main villain, and is described as an "intensely psychological man" who's "obsessed with the human mind and manipulating it"

  • Combat consists of stealth, melee fighting, and gunplay, with Indy's famous whip standing out as a tool you can use to fight as well as distract or traverse the environment

MachineGames also confirmed what we've been expecting since the game's presence at Developer_Direct was announced, which is that Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is scheduled to release in 2024. Like most other games at the show, it'll be available on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and through Game Pass. — Brendan Lowry

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road revealed after Developer_Direct

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road key art
The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road key art

The Xbox Developer_Direct was a great show, but the fun didn't stop there. Shortly after its conclusion, Xbox livestreamed the reveal of ZeniMax Online Studios' next major expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online. Dubbed "Gold Road," this new DLC will introduce a brand new story, fresh zones to explore, gameplay additions, and more. My colleague Samuel Tolbert put together a detailed overview of everything coming, but if you just want a quick look at what's on the way, look no further:

  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road takes place in the West Weald of Tamriel, which is a region of Cyrodiil that borders both Elsweyr and Valenwood.

  • The plot of its story directly follows up on The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom, which saw the reveal of the Daedric Prince Ithelia at the end of its narrative

  • In West Weald, players will be able to adventure through the autumnal Gold Road, the rough Colovian Highlands, and the Valenwood Annexation rainforest.

  • A new feature called Scribing is also coming in the expansion. It will allow players to customize skills and spells with primary, secondary, and tertiary effects, as well as different colors

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road is set to launch on Windows PC and Mac on June 3, 2024, with the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game getting the DLC a few weeks later on June 18, 2024. — Brendan Lowry