The Xbox and Bethesda Showcase was the watershed moment Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S owners have been patiently waiting for. In a 90 minute conference, stuffed full of new and genuinely exciting announcements, Microsoft not only answered the fiercest criticism leveled at its new hardware – a lack of games – but also showed that its billion dollar investments in Bethesda and countless other studios is about to pay off in a big way.
And that’s a relief, as Xbox owners will have undoubtedly cast more than a few envious glances over to Sony’s PS5, which has delivered next-gen games from day one. While Microsoft has been content to pad out the first six months of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S’ lifespan with optimized titles, Sony has at least released genuine PS5 games, such as the breath-taking Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart and addictive roguelike Returnal. And it has more to come.
Nintendo Switch owners were also utterly spoiled within the console’s first year on sale, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 all ensuring the hybrid system got off to a flying start – not to mention the current rumors of a ‘Switch Pro’ successor ready to pull the attention away from Microsoft and Sony’s machines.
Suddenly, though, the outlook for what’s coming to Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S in 2021 and the years ahead seems bountiful – and with Xbox Game Pass as the driving force, it’s made Microsoft’s new consoles an extremely attractive proposition for gamers.
Microsoft should be credited for not only curating a show that included heavy hitters like Starfield and Halo Infinite, but for also including such a diverse selection of titles. From impressive independent titles such as Replaced and The Ascent, to the silly mayhem of Party Animals, it was a show that catered more to the masses rather than those who simply own Microsoft’s machine.
We also saw what the Xbox Series X hardware can do, which is something some fans have been crying out for. Stalker 2 promises to be a graphical tour de force for the system, Microsoft Flight Simulator seems to be as equally mesmerizing on Xbox as it is on PC, and the phenomenal-looking Forza Horizon 5 was jaw-droppingly beautiful.
It was a show completely devoid of filler, then, with plenty of surprises for players to look forward to, including, of all things, the Xbox Mini Fridge in Holiday 2021.
But if there’s one key message that Microsoft managed to drive home with every reveal, it was this: you’d be a fool not to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass. Seriously, if you play on Xbox or PC, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice by not signing up to Microsoft’s subscription service.
Not only did Microsoft add 10 new Bethesda games to the popular subscription service – along with the excellent Yakuza: Like a Dragon – but out of the 30 titles shown during the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, 27 of them are coming to Xbox Game Pass, with many arriving on day one. The prospect of being able to play practically every game announced at E3, for a monthly fee, was simply unheard of only a few years ago. Impossible even, but it’s a reality on Xbox.
Xbox Game Pass continues to redefine the gaming industry in terms of how it delivers content and the unbeatable value it provides. But it’s easy to forget that it’s still a supplementary service – one that doesn’t stop you from buying physical or digital copies of games (though subscribers do get a 20% discount of any game that’s on Xbox Game Pass). But just like Netflix and Spotify, its sheer convenience and ability to keep subscribers consistently engaged is where it surpasses the traditional purchasing models of old.
While you might have to wait months for the next big game to release on other platforms, and fork up a hefty sum when it does come out, Xbox Game Pass will deliver at least one notable title every month for subscribers to play from now until the end of 2021.
In June, there’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a huge update to Sea of Thieves and Dark Alliance. July sees The Ascent and Flight Simulator hit the service, while August brings Hades, Twelve Minutes and Psychonauts 2. September sees the sumptuous-looking Sable arrive, and in October to December, Xbox Game Pass subscribers can look forward to Back 4 Blood, Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, and many more (seriously).
That’s a gluttony of content for players to sink their time into, then, and 2022 will be no different. Subscribers will receive Redfall, Contraband, Starfield, Somerville, Atomic Heart, Party Animals, Stalker 2, A Plague Tale: Requiem, Replaced and more on day one at no additional charge – provided the industry’s recent trend towards near-inevitable release delays subsides.
The light is green
Microsoft has previously said that it’s aiming to release a first-party title every three months, and it seems like that is a real possibility thanks to its huge lineup of studios. For a company that was so reliant on three series in the past – Gears, Halo and Forza – it’s a remarkable turnaround, and shows that Microsoft’s long-term plan was the right one.
So Microsoft knocked it out the park, then, but what’s even more encouraging is the amount of games it didn’t show. We didn’t see Avowed, Forza Motorsport, Fable, Perfect Dark, Hellblade 2, Everwild or The Elder Scrolls 6, which means there’s plenty more to come to the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S in the future.
It was always going to be a long rebuilding process to fix the damage that was done by Microsoft’s decisions for the Xbox One. The company bet on making the Xbox One a multimedia device first as opposed to a dedicated gaming console, and let its portfolio of first-party studios shrivel up to the point where there were barely any left. Now, though, the shoots of those seeds Microsoft planted a few years ago are beginning to bloom, and it’s gamers who will reap the rewards.