Minecraft is coming to the real world – and in 3D. Just don’t hold your breath.

Microsoft delivered a convincing press briefing at E3 2015, revealing a muscular line-up of exclusive titles and features.

The show was stolen by the appearance of Minecraft on the company’s Hololens augmented reality (AR) hardware. On stage, Microsoft Studios manager Saxs Persson, showed how the block-building game can use the forthcoming device, which overlays computer graphics onto the real world to create a tabletop Minecraft landscape that players can model and interact with, through voice and touch commands.

No release date was given for the tech or the game, but Microsoft made clear it has big plans for both mixed and virtual reality. Corporate vice president and Hololens head Kudo Tsunoda also announced that the company would be working with Valve, co-developer of the HTV Vive virtual reality headset, to make Windows 10 the de facto platform for virtual reality (VR) technologies on the PC. With this and the recent announcement that the Oculus Rift VR headset would be shipping with an Xbox One controller (together with the ability to play Xbox One games streamed via PC), it seems Microsoft is making a land grab for both the VR and AR sectors, while competitor Sony concentrates on its own virtual reality technology project, Morpheus.
Xbox E3 Rise of the Tomb Raider
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Rise of the Tomb Raider artwork at Xbox’s press conference at E3. Photograph: Michael Nelson/EPA

Away from futuristic immersion platforms, Microsoft revealed a generous range of new titles, showing footage from Halo 5, Forza Motorsport 6 and Gears of War 4, as well as the latest Lara Croft adventure, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which will appear first on Xbox One this winter, getting an as-yet unknown headstart on PS4. From Software’s Dark Souls III, another much-anticipated sequel, was also shown for the first time, with a spring 2016 release date.

As anticipated, legendary UK studio Rare revealed its latest title, Sea of Thieves, a typically bright and brash multiplayer pirating adventure, described by studio head Craig Duncan as “By far the most ambitious game that Rare has ever created.” Rare also has a collection of 30 of its classic titles such as Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day coming to Xbox One.

Elsewhere, Dean Hall, creator of cult open-world zombie title Day Z, popped up to show his latest project, Ion, an intriguing adventure based around deep space colonisation. Recore, a new title from Japanese game design legend Keiji Inafune and the team behind sci-fi classic Metroid Prime, is due in Spring 2016, and features two of this year’s seemingly on-trend elements: a female protagonist and a dog companion.

There were some key service announcements too, not least limited backward compatibility with the Xbox 360. Classic titles will start showing up on Xbox One’s online store soon, but players who own the original versions will be able to download the digital versions for free. Xbox chief Phil Spencer showed the original Mass Effect running on Xbox One, where classic titles will be supported by new features like screenshot sharing and game streaming.

Microsoft is also launching the Xbox One Preview service which allows players to download and try incomplete games before they are published. The concept is similar to Early Access on the PC games platform Steam. Players will be able to trial each game for free, then decide whether to commit to a purchase. Two titles Elite: Dangerous and Long Dark are already available and more are coming throughout the year.

A large range of independent titles were shown to add some relief from a lot of shooting and explosions. Steve Gaynor of Fullbright showed its follow up to critically acclaimed exploration game Gone Home with Tacoma, and there was also a brief look at the fascinating Beyond Eyes, an adventure following a blind girl who must use touch to navigate the environment.

It was a strong confident showing, then, with popular glances backward and some interesting platform exclusives. It will be up to Sony, holding its press conference later in the day, to up the ante, especially on exclusive titles. For the last two years the fight between Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has been built largely on technical differences and promise. Now, with plenty of titles looking to fully explore the capabilities of both sets of hardware, the real console war begins.

E3 2015: Xbox thrills with Lara Croft, Halo 5 and holographic Minecraft