Recently, Microsoft revealed its blockbuster acquisition attempt of Activision Blizzard, massively swelling the number of games it has available to offer on Xbox Game Pass — at least potentially. We know about many upcoming Xbox, Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard games, from Diablo IV to Contraband, but what about after that?
Video game development is a slow and arduous process, frustrated all the more by the shift to a work-from-home culture fostered by the good ol' pandemic. As we look beyond the next few years of upcoming Xbox and PC games from Microsoft and its teams, what kind of games could or even should Microsoft explore for the future?
Purely for fun, as an ignorant gamer, rather than a dev, here are a few ideas that bubbled up in my head during random bouts of anxiety-induced insomnia!
A big Xbox IP MOBA
One of the strangest things to me is how huge MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games are on PC, and how practically invisible they are on consoles. Besides SMITE, there are basically no major MOBAs on Xbox or PlayStation consoles, which is a huge head-scratcher to me. Some people may point to the fact that they need mouse and keyboard controls to be played well, to that I happily point at games like Pokémon Unite on Nintendo Switch and the multitude of touch-based MOBA games that are popular on mobile. Games like Diablo III prove that isometric action games can work with a controller, so why has League of Legends, DOTA 2, and so on, never been released on consoles? Who knows?
In any case, there's clearly a gap in the market here that Microsoft and its new partners could easily fill. Activision Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm MOBA is effectively on hiatus right now, in minimal support mode. I suspect HoTS fans wouldn't enjoy this suggestion, but bringing HoTS to Xbox (and even PlayStation), complete with characters from beyond Blizzard IPs, like Master Chief, DOOMguy, Battletoads, heck, put The Evil Within's iconic "Safehead" Keeper in it. It would fill a big gap in the MOBA market on console, and bring in new fans using Microsoft, Bethesda, and Activision's wider IP pool to revive Heroes of the Storm in the process.
Halo ODST revival on the Call of Duty engine
Another sacrilegious idea from yours truly. Halo's ODST soldiers are a lesser-appreciated character in the wider Halo canon, but they did once upon a time get a whole spinoff dedicated to them, dubbed Halo ODST. For those of us who don't gel well with Halo's uniquely tactical FPS combat ... what if there were a Halo-themed twitch shooter to appeal to a more casual audience?
With rumors that Microsoft may nix the annualized version of Call of Duty, and given the fact Call of Duty is essentially struggling to remain fresh, what if there were a Halo x Call of Duty crossover? A twitchy Call of Duty-styled Halo ODST reboot would be just what the doctor ordered in that scenario, bringing together fans of both franchises and potentially helping Halo find a whole new audience in the process.
Hexen revival by id Software
With DOOM and DOOM Eternal going from success to success, id Software has been on a bit of a roll in recent years. DOOM Eternal's DLC effectively wrapped up that chapter of DOOMguy's story quite nicely, and while I highly doubt we've seen the last of DOOM, the franchise may be in for a bit of a quiet period while id Software explores other things.
id Software is hiring right now for developers with familiarity with DOOM, so it stands to reason they're already hard at work building a new shooter on its iconic id Tech engine. With Microsoft exploring the purchase of Activision Blizzard, what if the Hexen IP could finally be reunited with id Software and partner studio Raven?
Hexen was effectively DOOM, with magic instead of guns. Playing as a warlock armed with medieval weaponry and occult sorcery, in Hexen you dispatch the forces of evil with a hail of magical bolts. Hexen would be a great franchise to explore if the ABK purchase does go through, with id Software back at the helm.
Starcraft Ghost revival by The Coalition
StarCraft Ghost is a long-lost shooter based on the popular StarCraft RTS IP, which takes place in a distant future full of mecha and aliens. StarCraft Ghost was supposed to revolve around psychic espionage gameplay featuring Nova from the franchise, from a third-person perspective.
The game was originally in development for the PlayStation 2, announced literally 20 years ago. After a notorious series of developmental problems, the project was famously axed, never to be seen or heard from again.
With Activision potentially joining Microsoft in the future, what if Gears of War developers, The Coalition, were to give the IP another look for a potential revival. With Gears of War as a franchise probably in need of a bit of a break, it would make full sense after Gears 6 to give The Coalition something new to explore, and few studios know how to build third-person action games like The Coalition.
StarCraft Tactics with cloud-aware mobile APIs
Speaking of StarCraft, reviving the RTS would undoubtedly be something Microsoft would be interested in exploring, but what if there were other tactics genres StarCraft could tap into? The Coalition and Splash Damage successfully translated the Gears of War formula to turn-based tactics with Gears Tactics a little while back, although the lack of management gameplay and depth probably stopped it from really scratching the XCOM itch many fans have.
StarCraft seems like a perfect candidate for something that could translate well to tactics-style gameplay, especially if it was built from the ground up with Xbox Cloud Gaming cloud-aware APIs for smaller screen gameplay and touch controls. Turn-based games aren't as susceptible to latency problems as cloud-based games have, too. It would certainly need to have more depth than Gears Tactics, though.
World of Warcraft II
And here's the mack daddy of "probably won't happen": World of Warcraft II. I wrote recently about how WoW has more competition than ever, from more modern takes on the format like FFXIV, or the rise of free-to-play titles like Lost Ark. League of Legends developer Riot is also thought to be building an MMO based on the IP, which will undoubtedly give WoW a true run for its money.
One of the biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses of WoW is its aging engine. Yes, the game can be run on a potato, giving it a huge range of PCs to potentially gain audience share from. And yes, the game has close to 20 years of content you can explore within it, although only the latest expansions tend to be "current" and relevant from a gameplay perspective.
From a modern audience appeal perspective, I think one of the biggest things holding WoW back is undoubtedly its engine. Graphically, Blizzard has made a huge amount of effort to upgrade and modernize the game's visuals, but there's only so much the developers can do when it comes to building quests and so on. The creativity of Blizzard's quest design and raid design teams cannot be understated, given how much creativity and uniqueness they've been able to extract from the WoW engine over the past couple of decades. I can't help but wonder what the game would look like with a fresh slate, with a world designed from the ground up to be expanded over time, with a linear quest narrative that doesn't become strange and disjointed as more content is added to the game.
Perhaps wiping the drawing board clean and starting over would give WoW the breath of fresh air it needs to move into the future, but rebuilding a world as huge as Azeroth with modern visuals would undoubtedly be a very, very expensive project.
What do you think?
Microsoft and Xbox have more games in development than ever, with dozens upon dozens of upcoming Xbox games in development from a huge list of Xbox's internal, Bethesda, and third-party studios. The possibilities for the future and beyond are crazy to think about. What do you want to see from Xbox and Microsoft? What genres are missing from their lineup? What characters and IP would you like to see revived? Hit the comments, let us know.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!