The Xbox Games Showcase finally arrived, coming over a month after Sony's huge PS5 event. There was one question burning in every console gamer's mind: Would Microsoft be able to match, or even exceed, the offerings Sony brought to the table on June 11th?
The short answer: It's complicated. Some say no, due to the sheer lack of Series X exclusive titles or gameplay reveals. As an out-of-the-box gaming experience, the PS5 looks to have an advantage this fall.
On the other hand, it seems that it's clear that Microsoft is trying to create a different gaming experience to an audience that may be less focused on exclusives and more on an ecosystem with the Xbox Games Pass.
Despite this being a "Games Showcase," Microsoft seemed to have a particular focus on pushing not just titles, but also features with this announcement.
Nevertheless, games are pretty important when it comes to consoles. Across the 32 titles mentioned at the showcase, we got a peek to a vast range of styles, types, and flavors.
Bookending the reveals was, without surprise, Halo: Infinite—a title which has been pretty divisive since its first announcement. As an old-school Halo fan, the gameplay was a hugely nostalgic showcase. It nestled itself perfectly into my rose-tinted memories of the first campaign mission in Halo: Combat Evolved, and Halo 3. But we have to ask if that's a good thing?
Those titles came out 17, and 13 years ago, and even with the inevitable graphical upgrades and introduction of new weapons, deployables, and Sekiro-like grappling hook, it seems like the franchise hasn't come far since then. And though lead developers 343 are certainly looking to capitalize on this throwback style, I can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the graphical and gameplay potential put on display.
That said, Halo Infinite was likely shoved in our faces due to the necessity of having an immediately recognizable poster-boy title to spearhead the new generation and generate hype. It's just a shame that in 2020, it seems like fresh, original IP is sorely lacking across media.
Case in point, we also caught glimpses of a new Fable title, Tetris Effect: Connected, Warhammer 40K: Darktide, Forza's next incarnation, Microsoft's State of Decay 3 and, a little more unexpectedly, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.
Sadly among these titles, there was a marked lack of gameplay footage, with most being pure CG announcement trailers—suggesting many of these titles won't be with us for at least another two years. Even then, those that revealed gameplay were tagged bizarrely, with Forza's engine being presented as a graphics demo that was "early in development."
Fortunately, we did receive some new IPs. The most exciting is headed by Obsidian, who was purchased by Microsoft a few years back. They revealed Grounded and Avowed, which appeared to be Microsoft exclusives and were announced alongside a DLC for Obsidian's The Outer Worlds.
Avowed definitely stole my attention, as it stands uniquely apart from Sony's exclusives—promising to be an expansive medieval fantasy RPG headed by the team which brought to life the incredible Fallout: New Vegas. A Bethesda-esque RPG (minus the half-broken games, and reliance on free-community modding) would be a massive draw for the Series X, giving it an advantage over the PS5 in this market.
As has been the case with Sony over the last month, Microsoft also doubled-down on the promotion of indie projects. Among them, Hellblade 2 and The Medium deserve some callouts appearing to be pretty dark, psychological thrillers that target a mature audience.
With deeply disturbing psychological horror and mid-2000s title revivals taking precedence, it's pretty clear that Microsoft is attracting a mature audience to this new console.
The back-to-it's-roots approach taken by Halo: Infinite is testament to this and when paired with the long-awaited revival of classic Fable and cult classic S.T.A.L.K.E.R. alongside the realist driving sim Forza and new IPs, I, as a long-time gamer in my mid-20s, am certainly more drawn to the prospects of nostalgia and deeply-compelling narratives found on the new Xbox than the arcade-style thrills of Spider-Man or Ratchet & Clank which are plastered all over the PS5.
The Console Itself
This mature ideology rubs off onto the console itself. The various systems presented by the Series X, from Smart Delivery to the Xbox Games Pass, are the ones of a company willing to allow customers the right to make their own choices.
While the PS5 screams at you, "this is why you need a PS5," Microsoft's strategy is subtler. They show you why the Series X will be the most robust console ever made with a next-gen ecosystem through the Xbox Games Pass at $10/month.
All the while, players can stick with their Xbox One for the time being. This comes with the promise that first-party releases will also be compatible with the One for two years to come, and many will also be coming to PC.
Does the Series X Compete?
PS5 and the Series X are next-generation consoles in direct competition, but they differentiate themselves through ideology and user experience.
Key to all this was Microsoft aggressively pushing the Xbox Games Pass, where most of these games will be fully available Day 1. The goal appears to be pushing the platform to become the Netflix of Video Games and building a platform where they can reap huge rewards from selling features, games, and services.
Where the PS5 is rushing to secure many exclusives for games, I can't help but more drawn to Series X's slimmed down and more focused line-up, which will trickle out over the next few years and the massive value-added proposition they've set up on the Xbox Games Pass.
It is no longer a question about the Series X anymore, given that most titles will be available on other Microsoft systems. Instead, it is the PS5 versus Microsoft gaming as a whole.
Regardless of Microsoft's strategy attracting me as an individual, we'll have to wait and see if this focus on a different side of gaming will be pay off in the long run and make it a success when console sales go live later this year.
Related: Check out all our latest coverage on the Xbox Series X here