My thoughts on Microsoft and the state of the Xbox One X for 2018.
Xbox One in 2018
“…yeah, we had a pretty good year. We could do better.” Those were the words from Phil Spencer, head executive of Microsoft’s Xbox division, at The Game Awards 2018. In a year where both the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch saw such killer apps like God of War, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!, respectively, Microsoft has had difficulty finding a similar foothold with their exclusives (or lack thereof). Multi-platform 3rd-party games and indie titles typically fill the gaps between 1st-party exclusives for the major platform holders, but sometimes relying on others to breathe life into your library isn’t always the greatest value proposition. That’s not to say that Microsoft Games Studio’s State of Decay II, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 didn’t do well critically/commercially, but most would argue that the aforementioned titles don’t hold the same amount of cache as something like Santa Monica Studio’s God of War or Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros.
Microsoft is in a better position going into 2019 than they were a year ago, however. With their aggressive 3rd-party partnership acquisitions (including Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, The Initiative, Obsidian Entertainment and InXile Entertainment), their portfolio has the potential to be diverse and voluptuous. Hopefully, none of the new games developed by these studios end up being extremely delayed or outright canceled. Sumo Digital’s Crackdown 3 (which finally has a release date) is shaping-up to be a decent, nonsensical run&gun shooter, but considering its questionable development cycle, its recent showing still left much to be desired. I would be remiss not to mention the cancellation of Platinum Game’s Scalebound a year (or two?) ago, an action-adventure game from the legendary Hideki Kamiya that will never see the light of day (I’m still not personally over what this game could have been).
Complete Global Saturation (in Wesker’s voice)
Microsoft’s X018 event took place this year in Mexico City, a fan-fest of sorts with new game announcements, promotions and the like. Since Sony backed out of their PlayStation Experience event this year, this was the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to be in the limelight as well as other 3rd-party publishers/developers to showcase their games on the “most powerful console ever”. It’s great to see Microsoft celebrate with their fans in different markets, but what about countries like Japan? Japan is a market where Microsoft has sorely been unrepresented for years. At E3 2018 and at The Game Awards this year, Microsoft has been aggressively promoting Capcom’s Devil May Cry 5. They’ve even released an exclusive demo on the Xbox One (which also allows players to transfer their data to the full game), so they’re clearly not fooling around. But does this modern-day Microsoft remind anyone of year’s past?
We’ve seen this before back during the Xbox 360 era with Capcom’s very own Devil May Cry 4, Lost Planet and Dead Rising, games that were mostly exclusive to the platform (initially) and arguably the best ways to experience the games, but it still wasn’t enough to turn the tides in the east. At X018, Square-Enix’s Shinji Hashimoto came out on stage and announced that the entire Final Fantasy XIII trilogy was coming to the Xbox One X, as well as some of the older Final Fantasy (FF) titles, including FFVII, FFIX and FFXII. It’s true, Microsoft’s Xbox One X is still the most powerful home console on the market and most, if not all 3rd-party titles play best on the X, but with new hardware from Sony on the horizon, Microsoft’s big-old-box won’t have that advantage as a talking-point for long. So, what’s left at the end of the day? Exclusives… and they are in desperate need of some.
What’s Old is New Again
My Xbox One X has seen little activity outside of a brief stint during the first two months of the year. My PS4 has received the majority of my attention (and my Switch to a lesser extent), but some of the more recent announcements and updates to Microsoft’s PC-like console has had me itching to find time to play. Microsoft’s continuous efforts towards their commitment to backwards compatibility and making the Xbox One a legacy platform is quite honestly the best thing about all of the major platform holders right now. In an age where inadequate/lackluster HD re-masters/ports are getting released every other week/month, Microsoft’s enhanced original Xbox titles have been giving big-name publishers/developers a run for their money. While Red Dead Redemption 2 will make its way onto many people’s top 10 lists this year, I’ve never finished the original game, so I’ve been taking this opportunity to revisit the first Read Dead Redemption (enhanced) and it’s been glorious. There are many, many other original Xbox titles I’ve been meaning to revisit, but I just haven’t made the time to delve deeper into Microsoft’s vault.
Xbox Game Pass has also been a wonderful addition to Microsoft’s ecosystem. As someone who generally doesn’t play racing games, for example, the fact that Forza Horizon 4 could be played for $10 a month made me “Jump In”, so to speak (somewhere, a Microsoft PR person is smiling, but please settle down). Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is another game that recently launched on Game Pass and is supposedly an extremely well-made, yet challenging X-COM-like. PC-style strategy games are usually not my forte, but as a subscriber to the service, I’m more than willing to give the game a whirl and perhaps if I like the game enough, as a collector, I may purchase the game down the road. I’m not the only one in this try & buy camp either, in an interview back on Giant Bomb during E3 2018, Phil Spencer reported that their full game sales have increased since Game Pass has gone live. Now if only Microsoft could combine both Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass into a single subscription…
“There’s two stats that always surprise me. One: I think on a monthly average a Game Pass player plays 4 or 5 more games than a non-Game Pass player. They’re playing a lot more games. They’re also buying more games…which at first I’m like…that surprised me.”
Gaming on Windows 10 (Windows Store)
I am admittedly not the person to speak to in regards to PC gaming and Windows as I’ve been primarily a console gamer my whole life, but I felt it was necessary to mention Microsoft’s work-in-progress. In an article by the Verge, Phil Spencer admits that there’s a ton of work to be had on their PC storefront. I’ve never used the Windows Store, so I can’t speak on behalf of its issues, but I will say one thing. I do find it interesting that a lot of their 1st-party games have released or are starting to release same day for both the Xbox One X and PC. You would think launching such games exclusively on their console would attract more people and perhaps convince a PC enthusiast to purchase one of their boxes, but that’s clearly not the case here. More options for players is undeniably the unofficial PC gamer manifesto, so perhaps treating each platform as equals lends itself to Phil’s agenda.
“I think we’ve got a ton of work to do on Windows… Windows is something I’m very committed to, I’ve heard the feedback about our Store. I’m going to take a bigger leadership role on what’s going on with the Windows Store, make it really tailored to the gamers that we know want to see the best from what we have to offer.”
Trying to Get Back on Board
I tried playing Rare’s Sea of Thieves, a return to “traditional” games from the legendary studio responsible for Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct and Banjo-Kazooie, but I was met with choppy waters at launch back in March. I grew-up playing a lot of their games and some of my greatest memories are from their pre-Microsoft acquisition. While the game has been updated/expanded over the year, I only dipped my toes into its waters for a week or two before I eventually jumped ship. Performance issues and content-lite activities kept me away from its shores during the launch window, however. I’ve been meaning to “set sail” as I’ve heard the game has improved, but I just haven’t had the motivation to walk the plank, so to speak (phew… those were a lot of bad puns, but I had to). Finally, both Ashen and Below, two other highly anticipated “indie darlings” that have been in development for quite some time are also launching day-one on Game Pass and I can’t wait to try them! At the end of the day, I’m hoping Game Pass’s offerings will have me turning on my Xbox more in the coming new year and beyond.