Microsoft has been struggling to shake off memes about its portfolio quality, and mistrust from its handling of the 2013 Xbox launch. For people already in the ecosystem, though, Microsoft is delivering in a big way. As an Xbox customer, I'm more excited than ever about what the future holds for the platform.
When you look at what Microsoft is doing at a broader platform level, Xbox is upending the very nature of the industry entirely around us — customers, with the best-value service in gaming with Xbox Game Pass, and an approach to digital content that unilaterally moves with you across devices and generations.
Even if you're not a fan of what Microsoft is putting out, the data suggests many people are. Xbox Game Pass subscriptions are climbing, moving past the 10-million mark. Microsoft games are dominating Steam PC sales charts, a feat that would've been unheard of in previous generations, and the Xbox Series X represents the most powerful console hardware ever made.
A portfolio for everyone, everywhere
Xbox Game Studios titles don't always resonate with critics, but they certainly seem to resonate with gamers. After two years on the market, Sea of Thieves continues to be a tour de force on streaming platforms and after several weeks on Steam, remains in the top 5 games on sale, despite being available among the best games on Xbox Game Pass.
As of writing, Microsoft holds several chart positions on Steam, which certainly is an indicator that Microsoft is making experiences people want, even if professional game critics tend to overlook them. Grounded has been sitting pretty on the top spot for a few days now, despite being in early access. Microsoft Flight Simulator rocketed in at number two, simply for pre-orders. Even State of Decay 2 which has been on the market for two years is gradually rising up the sales charts, as Undead Labs continue to pour love into the game in the form of free updates. And of course, Halo's Master Chief Collection continues to impress on PC, with continued support.
That's right now, though. What about the future? At the Xbox July Showcase, Microsoft showed us everything Xbox Game Studios is working on, joining an expansive list of the best upcoming Xbox games. There's simply never been a more exciting time to be an Xbox fan.
- Avowed: Set to be an Elder Scrolls competitor, Avowed takes place in Obsidian's popular Pillars of Eternity universe, complete with a first-person perspective. Rumors describe it as denser than Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but details are scant for now.
- State of Decay 3 was also revealed, set in a wintry environment complete with infected animals. State of Decay 2 has great sandbox fun, but a little rough around the edges, hopefully, the third game will be more polished.
- Psychonauts 2 is the sequel to Tim Schafer's popular LSD-trip of a platformer.
- Halo Infinite has proven divisive with its art style, but regardless, it looks as though it will expand the franchise in important ways, while retaining Halo's signature gameplay.
- Hellblade II might represent our best look at next-gen gameplay on Xbox Series X, with a stunning in-engine trailer that, if representative of actual gameplay, looks truly insane.
- Age of Empires IV is also on the horizon, reborn after several years on hiatus.
- Wasteland 3 is the next big game from Xbox Game Studios, launching across multiple platforms by the recently acquired inXile Entertainment.
There are plenty of other upcoming games worth noting, both from first and third-party studios. The key takeaway here is the diversity in the portfolio. We have 3D platformers, we have first-person open-world RPGs. We have simulation survival games, shooters, action-adventure, real-time strategy, and classic turn-based CRPG strategy. There's something for everybody here. And that's ultimately the name of the game now: Xbox, for everybody, everywhere, all the time, accessible, and affordable.
Your content, everywhere
One of the most exciting things about Xbox, and perhaps something some of us take for granted, is the guarantee that every single game in the Xbox One library will carry forward to future generations.
Project xCloud is the holy grail of console gaming.
Beyond that, all of those games will also become playable remotely via Xbox Console Streaming. While that has some limitations in terms of internet speed between your console and your phone, the promise of Project xCloud aims to bridge that gap, streaming supported games directly from Microsoft's high-powered server facilities dotted around the globe.
Project xCloud is now confirmed to be part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and will feature over 100 titles at launch with more added over time. This opens up Xbox to new markets, new hardware form factors, gaming on low-powered laptops and other devices, and of course, major AAA titles on mobile devices and tablets. Every Xbox Game Studio title is destined to end up in Project xCloud, both with controller controls and eventually touch controls for that true portable Xbox experience. Project xCloud is the holy grail of console gaming that will finally be realized in full in 2020 and beyond.
Microsoft has also begun investing in PC gaming more than ever before as well. Xbox Game Pass for PC is built directly into Windows 10 with an all-new Xbox Store app, and the new Xbox Game Bar is by far the most useful tool Microsoft has put on PC for gamers in years.
The fact Microsoft has effectively committed to bringing all of its Xbox console games to PC day and date is a huge turn around from previous years. Gears Tactics had some of the best PC settings and optimizations that I've ever seen in a game, and the commitment Microsoft has shown in building up the Halo Master Chief Collection on PC cannot be understated.
Xbox Series X power
Then we have the next-generation of console gaming, with the super-charged Xbox Series X, a monolithic beast of a console that brings the promise of being the most powerful Xbox ever built by a significant margin.
The raw visual improvements that will come with the Xbox Series X power may not be fully felt until a bit later, as first and third-party developers continue to build games that span generations. It shouldn't be long until we start seeing games take full advantage of the hardware, though. Future titles will start pushing greater visual detail while using hardware-intensive features like ray-tracing to deliver more spectacular lighting effects and reflections.
Perhaps the most visually-impressive Xbox Series X example we've seen so far is from Ninja Theory's Hellblade II. The trailer was constructed from in-engine sequences, offering us a glimpse at the sort of visuals we might be able to expect from top-flight photorealistic games in the future.
Halo Infinite will also ship targeting a blistering 120 frames per second in multiplayer, which is simply unheard of in console gaming up unto this point. The frame rates will make Halo Infinite feel more responsive to play than any title previous and will be a crucial factor in helping the franchise achieve a bigger esports following.
More hype than ever
Microsoft is investing in Xbox more than it has ever done in the past, giving us a more promising lineup of games than ever before, with a focus on powerful hardware like never before. Microsoft is also pushing the industry forward, innovating with huge investments in xCloud streaming, and services for developers like Game Stack and Playfab, not to mention advancements in DirectX and other APIs.
Xbox Game Pass and services like Xbox All Access will also make this generation of Xbox gaming more accessible than ever before, delivering larger pools of gamers for higher-quality match-making and ultimately more cash for developers of all sizes to reinvest in pushing the medium even further.
Whether you're picking up Xbox hardware or engaging with the ecosystem from your PC, or even a phone, there has never been a time to be more excited about what Microsoft is doing in gaming.
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