As we kick off 2021, only one next-gen exclusive, a delayed 2020 game, has a release date for the new consoles.
I was super hyped for the Xbox Series X/S. I’m a sucker for new consoles, so this is no surprise, but I think it’s pretty clear now that after the big day arrived like a hurricane, the dust settled to reveal a garden fence had blown over slightly and disturbed the empty bird-feeder hanging from your unused clothes line, and a few twigs from next-door’s overhanging magnolia tree landed on top of your son’s trampoline. Hilarious jokes aside, I’ve used the Xbox Series X daily, but I’m not doing anything on it I couldn’t be doing if I’d simply kept my Xbox One X – although I’d have had more time to read Twitter during loading screens.
The real question, then, is… when are we going to get some actual next-gen games to play on Microsoft’s new consoles? I should make it clear at this point that I am not suggesting any developers work beyond a reasonable amount of hours to get these games out the door sooner, and will wait as long as it takes. This doesn’t mean I’m not keen for new stuff, though.
You might wonder where this argument is coming from, as January will deliver one of the few next-gen-only titles in the form of The Medium, which is a console exclusive for Xbox Series X|S, and is also releasing on PC. Previews from earlier this month sounded positive, but I’ve been burnt by Bloober games in the past more often than not. Layers of Fear can’t make up for the disappointment I felt with its sequel, Observer, and Blair Witch. I’m more than a little cautious but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. We’ll find out soon enough.
Then we have… checks notes… yep, nothing.
Not a single Xbox Series X|S or Xbox One game from Xbox Game Studios has a release date, and only a few have a suggestion of a release date. Microsoft Flight Simulator (which looks amazing, and sold well on PC, but I wonder what audience it’ll have on console after a few novelty flights above hometowns) is due in the summer, Halo Infinite is coming this fall, and Psychonauts 2 is arriving this year.
Avowed (Obsidian Entertainment), Everwild (Rare), Fable (Playground Games), Forza Motorsport (Turn 10 Studios), Perfect Dark (The Initiative), Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II (Ninja Theory), and State of Decay 3 (Undead Labs) are all announced, but all feel like 2022 and beyond games. In a bizarre twist, Bethesda, which is now part of Microsoft, has two games releasing as timed exclusives on PlayStation platforms, although other games from the mega publisher might well sneak out this year. Microsoft has said that there are unknown games coming this year, but as of right now it’s hard not to look at the Xbox Series X sitting behind my TV and wonder if I really needed it.
Ongoing pandemic issues have no doubt made game development rather uncertain. When you consider how often development feels like an extremely imprecise science to begin with, that has to make the situation exceptionally tricky. But Microsoft chose to release its new consoles last November and therefore needs to give owners (and those looking to invest in a new machine) something more to look forward to.
As much as you can look to third-party software to fill the gaps, this isn’t what will ultimately sell people on the Xbox Series X|S, and Game Pass is a whole lot more exciting when the big AAA titles from Xbox arrive on day one. At the moment no big-hitter is in sight. For many people the PS5 will be their primary platform, and there’s no doubt that Sony is way ahead at the moment, both in terms of next-gen games released, first-party games coming soon, and the system offering better performance in multi-platform titles. Prior to launch the narrative around Xbox was great. The new console appeared to be the most powerful (which it may still be, even if it’s not obvious at the moment), Game Pass was (and still is) great, and talk around games felt more akin to the early Xbox 360 era than the lacklustre Xbox One years under Don Mattrick. This feeling of positivity around Xbox hasn’t disappeared, but more negativity is starting to grow in the increasingly large cracks.
I know games are coming. This isn’t about an irrational belief that the Xbox Series X|S is going to be starved of games. But that could easily become the online narrative if Microsoft doesn’t start giving the audience some regular updates. You could say the same to some degree about Nintendo and Sony, but neither needs to generate buzz and anticipation the same way Xbox does. When you’re behind (even if this isn’t a race or a war or whatever else pits these companies head to head), you need to do more to achieve the same. Xbox needs to do more.