Microsoft's Xbox July Showcase review: Finally, a roadmap

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite (Image credit: Microsoft)

So the Microsoft Xbox July Showcase has come and gone, detailing tons of interesting games from across the spectrum built for Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X. Of course, we finally got to see Halo Infinite in motion.

While there were a few things I wished we could've seen more of in the show, the message Microsoft offered was concise and clear, emphasizing Xbox Game Pass as the premier way to experience content coming out of Xbox Game Studios for the next half-decade or more.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the show, and some of the things I wish Microsoft could've dug a little bit deeper on.

What I loved

One aspect of Xbox I've grown to love is the diversity of games Microsoft is trying to claw into its lineup. Game Pass has led me to discover new genres repeatedly over the few years the service has been live, and the investment smaller studios receive from the service helps me become aware of games I otherwise might have not.

We got to see games like Echo Generation, with its turn-based monster show nostalgia vibes and The Medium, with its top-class horror presentation and unique next-gen features, coupled with the fact S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 will drop as a launch exclusive. Some of the smaller announcements really resonated with me, joining my growing list of most-anticipated upcoming Xbox games.

I'm also glad to have seen some of the new games we suspected were coming, but hadn't yet seen anything from. One thing I've been acutely aware of with modern Microsoft is how reluctant they've been to describe games that maybe were years out, rather than months out, perhaps in reaction to canceled titles like Phantom Dust and Scalebound. That fear of announcing games further away seems to have been shed, since Microsoft showed off some cinematic footage for a few of its staple franchises.

That fear of announcing games further away seems to have been shed.

For example, State of Decay 3 was revealed, giving us a glimpse at Undead Labs' next major effort with this premier zombie apocalypse simulation game. The trailer didn't give away much in terms of gameplay, but did seem to offer a few hints at the locale and types of enemies we may face. Up until now, State of Decay has only featured human enemies and mutants, but the new trailer showed off a zombie deer, disturbingly devouring a wolf in a bit of a role-reversal. As a State of Decay fan, seeing the game with this kind of detail was impressive, but whether or not it can be replicated in-game and not just CGI remains to be seen.

Fable was finally revealed, albiet via a brief cinematic trailer. Thankfully, Fable will retain its humor, sidestepping some rumors that it would pivot into something a little bit more grimdark. However, if you're looking for grimdark fantasy, we have Obsidian's Avowed, which looks to be Microsoft's answer to Elder Scrolls. We also got a brief glimpse at the next Forza, and of course, a huge gameplay explosion for all things Halo Infinite.

For most, Halo Infinite is the center piece of the show, as Microsoft's biggest gaming franchise this side of Minecraft. Halo Infinite evolves the formula the franchise is typically known for, taking it into an open world format with map objectives, although the general gameplay structure isn't fully clear.

I'm glad we got to see more of Microsoft's longer term plans, and it's something fans and, at least myself personally, have been asking for. However, it's a bit of a double-edged sword when, again, we primarily got cinematic trailers rather than gameplay footage for some of those games that are further afield.

What I liked less

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Halo Infinite was split into two trailers, one cinematic and one gameplay-oriented. The cinematic trailer jarred quite hard against the gameplay visually, with supremely detailed CGI renders giving way to stylistically attractive, but technically less-impressive in-engine visuals. I remember being totally blown away seeing Halo 4 on an Xbox 360, but Halo Infinite isn't as visually impressive as some other open world titles on the horizon — Sony's Horizon Zero Dawn 2 specifically, which is a bit of a marvel to behold.

That said, Halo Infinite is a first-person shooter, and Microsoft has prioritized frame rates to that end. However, I thought next-gen was going to do away with compromises, and nothing about Halo Infinite really felt like it was a step up from Halo 5 to me. I also have concerns about the open-world gameplay. Are we going to be grinding materials to level up gear like in Destiny? If not, how to you make side objectives compelling in a shooter like Halo? There are a lot of unanswered questions there.

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

And while I did complain that Microsoft didn't show off its roadmap to us in more detail previously, it's a bit annoying that Forza, State of Decay 3, Fable, and Avowed only had cinematic trailers once again, without any gameplay. Even Hellblade II which was announced over half a year ago was a no-show, which makes me wonder when we're likely to actually get our hands on some of these games.

The future is Game Pass

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One thing Microsoft was keen to do throughout the show was slam home the idea that every title it had shown off is coming day and date into Xbox Game Pass, from the biggest titles like Halo Infinite down to smaller ones like Grounded, along with some third-party offerings like Dragon Quest XI and Destiny. The value of Xbox Game Pass is truly unrivalled in the industry right now, but I'm not sure if Xbox Game Pass alone is enough to turn the tide against PlayStation.

Every title it had shown off is coming day and date into Xbox Game Pass

Nothing in today's Xbox show truly blew my mind, even if it was a rock solid show and delivered a longer-term roadmap of things to look forward to. What it did slam home to me was that we can continue to be happy and comfortable about Xbox Game Pass. I see no reason to move my primary gaming expenditure away from Xbox and PC, given that Game Pass is delivering so much value on both of those platforms right now — more value than I physically have time for even. Similarly though, I saw nothing in the show that would necessarily make a PlayStation-oriented gamer feel like switching sides.

A lot of gaming discourse revolves around the sport of "which platform is winning." Nothing about today's event suggests Xbox will steal the hardware sales crown from Sony, but they don't need to. Microsoft is delivering for people already invested in its ecosystem, already invested in Xbox Game Pass, and want to carry their investment forward to next-gen hardware with the Xbox Series X, or mobile with Project xCloud. And clearly, Xbox is crushing it on the sales front.

Xbox Series X/S

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Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for 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!

35 Comments
  • I really didn't expect much game play other than Halo, so overall I had a good feeling about the show. Even Halo I could seem some improvements in to where it looked to have a slightly different 'feel'. It looked good to me visually, the plasma and explosions looked great.
  • Was a really good showing. Definately the best showing so fsr going into next Gen. The variety on offer was brilliant. Avowed and Fable lead by 2 impressive studios are 2 AAA RPGs that is going to be on any RPG fans radar. Ho Infinite looked awesome. The open Wolrd works great. And I can only imagine how amazing it looks when having one of those 50 enemy onscreen Halo battles. Flying vehicles, ground vehicles, units all fighting it out. Impressive. Everwild looks so good. Rare really nail water these days. Really interested in playing this one. The Medium looked visually great. And the fixed camera angles like Sent Hill is awesome. Forzas engine looked unbievable. Seriously those replay visuals were a cut above all others. Crossfire X campaign this year looks awesome. Again visually better than other modern warfare visuals. Plus loads more I may have forgotten. It was a great show of 9 studios so far from MS. With more to come. And not to forget Hellblade 2. Some seriously good games coming for Series X from first party. Can't wait to see more on all these games.
  • Xbox good. Game Pass Good. Phil Spencer for president!
  • I've been in a generally underwhelmed state since the show. And I think most of that is on me. Like an idiot, I believed the hype that said there would be mic drops left right and centre. I also posted somewhere, shortly afterwards, that this was no E3. Since then I think I was foolish. It didn't try to be E3, it was generally just a 1st party showcase (MS literally delivered what they said they would). So, I was a fool for expecting more games. That said, I wanted more gameplay, I wanted to know what is available at launch. I think they're holding back, as Sony is. Both sides has more to show. Lack of gameplay aside, the CGI all looked great. For most of the reveals, I was impressed, but each time, without gameplay, I thought ohhhhh. I actually liked that Balen Wonderworld, and I hate games like that. CGI looked great, and there was some good use of music to build the feeling. I didn't think it was a brilliant show, but it wasn't bad either. Hello Neighbour in the pre-show looked gorgeous. Forza, wow, just delicious. As a Game Pass subscriber, it was a hell of a range of titles. Sad for the Fable trailer, I really did want a little more. Psychonauts, another game I wasn't interested in prior, was so eye catching. If the CGI represents what we may see, there is a lot to look forward to.
  • I definitely agree that both Sony and MS are holding back, incase they need an "ace in the hole" "final word" kind of moment. I know for a fact Sony has some tricks up its sleeve coming soon, that MS may struggle to answer, unless they also have something secret I didn't know about.
  • You've made me a very sad man... I'd like to have been wrong. Right Jez, you have a duty to DM Greenberg, Spencer and anyone else, and give them a heads up. Incidentally, not seen anyone mention the Battletoads reference in Grounded. I feel like the only one that saw it. Looking forward to you and Rand chatting about this.
  • So... Someone, elsewhere, it appears Battletoads has just been certified in Australia. Could be a fun. Not sure.
  • There's no way Microsoft has anything left to pull out. They would t give us a console price or release date. They couldn't be bothered to even give a legitimate release date for Halo, which Still looked like it was really clunky and visually rough in places. Theyu couldn't even give us gameplay of most anything, or even reasonable launch windows. The show felt like we have Halo as the only signficant release in 2020. If COVID legitimately messed them up on several games, then they're playing really high-risk, low-reward games with their continued dearth of content and looking badly for it again. Unless MS magically went "fooled you, Forza's done!" or shockingly managed to actually support WMR and do Xbox VR, little of what they showed could even POTENTIALLY qualify as capable of being a noteworthy "one more thing."
  • There are 6 more studios. Though obviously most may not have much to show. Battletoads is a definite. 100% they have a little more. I have no interest in Battletoads, but it is nearly done.
  • Problem I see at Soy for the first part of next Gen is games. Alot of their studios released games for PS4 this year and last year. So won't have anything for PS5 for at least 2 - 3 years. As it stands the launch for both consoles heavily favors Xbox in terms of AAA games. Even Spiderman is confirmed a 6-8 hour expansion of the PS4 game. Maybe Sony acquired new studios or got some more timed exclusives to announce. But in terms of Firdt party developers, they don't have much left that can announce any PS5 games yet.
  • What I liked
    Getting a release date for Tell Me Why. As Dusk Falls looks interesting. I would think this is could be a timed exclusive.
    It was also nice that they announced a new game Avowed (although we know very little about it). What I hated
    The timed exclusives. Just like Sony's presentation I hated all these timed deals. Sony & MS invest money to delay games for other gamer and have the fake tag "exclusive" on these games. Overall I would say it was quite dull and I don't think we saw much. I read and saw all the hype MS and it's fans were putting around this event, but I know not to expect too much from MS. They do this every year... I don't care about power but it's strange that for all the talk about power, they hardly showed much that look like taking advantage of that power. This reminds me of making a new kinect 2.0 with lots of new features and hardly making any game for it... Also about the Game pass situation, well, it was to be expected that they end up moving towards services. Turning games into services. And all this was predictable. More and more games would just be there to try to keep players subscribed and more and more games are going to free2play style services where the focus would be make money out of gamers... Also I would have wanted them to talk about the absence XBL gold 12 months subscription and what's going on there.
  • Well, they did say that this would only be games and not hardware or service announcements. I see that when he was asked about XBLG during the post show he looked to be caught off guard on the question. This tells me there is some kind of announcement they need to make regarding this, probably in the August event.
  • It wasn't even games. It was art trailers and titles, for the most part. That Forza took a year off and gave us THAT is ridiculous.
  • They spent 2 years building a new engine from the ground up.
  • It was game announcements, which is exactly what I expected. Thats they i felt it was a good show. Could they have shown more? Of course they could have, it could always improve, but we can now say we have games coming. I'm especially excited that Game Pass will go from crushing, to totally destroying my chances of making a dent in ny backlog.
  • This was a yawn for me. I feel like sometimes I just picked the wrong side. Pretty much the only games I enjoy playing are 3rd person action adventure, narrative driven games, and sports titles. Sony seems to be very focused on 3rd person action adventure games with a narrative component, MS not so much. Fingers crossed Sony brings more of their exclusives to PC in the coming years, really want to play Spider-Man with high framerate.
  • Did not enjoy art style of HI, to Halo 4/5 to me. Was really hoping for Halo 3 (4k/RT/60). The transformers free to play game looked good and so did the new Obsidian RPG. At least these games are "free" and we get AC and Cyberpunk.
  • It was a good show especially being first party and launch exclusive games only. Not having any 3rd party in the show was both a blessing and a curse. If a few big hitters like Cyberpunk or COD had been mixed in people would have probably felt better about the show overall. I miss E3 and Game pass is the bomb.
  • I struggle to see how people walk away happy with this presentation. For,like,the fourth year in a row, Microsoft kicked the can down the road on actually giving us content. We didn't get an actual release date for Halo, just the still-vague "Holiday 2020." Nothing else I watched produced even a legitimate launch window. Are we seriously going to manage one noteworthy release from MS with the new console? Is Everwild even a real game or just some drawings? Is Fable a 2023 title? Is The Iniative EVER going to produce something or what? We got VERY little in actual substance from something hyped for months and years. The Series X seems destined to be begging Halo to be better than it looks and hoping third-party titles will otherwise carry it. The "diversity" of games wasn't even all that compelling. A lot of things produced nothing to show gameplay diversity, more just that they can make different styles of art. Obsidian is working on expanding their Fallout copycat and teasing us with an Elder Scrolls copycat..? Microsoft seems to have invested in quantity over quality. Their lineup might LOOK diverse, but there was precious little content to prove the games are near-ready for release. We know almost nothing about a lot of them. What's more, the stuff we saw looked more like Xbox Game Studios is a conglomerate of send-tier and indie dev teams, NOT a first-party powerhouse. A lot of the animation in the games shown looked dated and generally unimpressive (whatever that game was with the sibling, the characters animated horribly). I've got literally no reason to buy a Series X now. Forza isn't coming. Basically nothing but Halo is. I'm not throwing a bunch of money at a console, just in case 343 can finally make a great Halo title. Mind you, that demo did very little to suggest they can. The guns felt really weak, a complete 180 from the top-tier gunplay of Halo 5. The environment looked good, but the character and dynamic object models (like the Fusion Coils and Covenant drop ship) were downright bad. The grappling hook interacted with things in a terrible way. It legitimately felt like they tried to steal ideas from Doom Eternal (like it's awesome Meat hook) but did it terribly. I'm truly beside myself that Microsoft could spend the last 3-5 years telling people to wait, prepping for a $700 console launch, and leaving us with this. I'm trying to find positives, but they're just too hard to locate. Yet again, "games are coming" seems to be the slogan of XGS.
  • You sound like an insane individual. Go rant about non existent $700 consoles elsewhere.
  • Where did you come up with that $700 number? O_o I mean, granted, I was left unimpressed with the showcase as well, but I certainly wasn't angry about it. I'm still buying a Series X. My original launch version of the One is showing its age. It is VERY slow. I have no reason to upgrade to anything other than the Series X if I'm upgrading at all. I do have a gaming PC, but I am more inclined to stream games to the PC from the console than I am to buy a $800+ graphics card 2-3 times per console generation. Even IF it had a $700 price tag, which I doubt.
  • Just wait if your not happy at launch. But in terms of AAA Firdt party games Xbox are clearly ahead at the monent. All Sony has currently is a 6 hour Spiderman expansion. There is literally no other first party launch gane for Sony. Ratchet is 2021. And HZ2 is likely Xmas 2021 earliest. This holiday Series X has The Medium, Halo, Crossfire X all before Xmas. Sontly desperately need a big game this holiday. I just don't know where that's coming from with most of their studios only released games for PS4 in the last 12-18 months. Unless Sony has some timed exclusives up its sleeve, this holiday is looking sparse for PS5. And not really any reason to own one at launch. I really would like Sony to show some deep RPGs like Avowed. Proper big AAA open Wolrd RPGs like that. They have to catch up surely.
  • Ah Richard, you still post here and there, but it seems that you post a lot less after MS showcase.
    A lot of the stuff you complained about on Sony presentation, suddenly doesn't seem to bother you when MS is doing this. Oh well, that's the role of a fanboys I suppose. Damage control when you have to, don't ever criticise they company you worship and always praise them no matter what.
    It doesn't matter if you lie or look like an hypocrite in the process...
  • The main reason I didn't go much on Sonys conference was a lack of content. Mainly due to Sony needing alot of announcements. At the moment Xbox has alot more first party content announced for Series X Flight Simator
    Age Of Empires 4
    Halo
    Fable
    Avowed
    State Of Decay 3
    Everwild
    Forza Motorsport All AAA games. And if I want to play The Medium or Crossfire X campaign this holiday I need an Xbox. From Sony so far All I see for AAA content is Horizon 2, GT7 and Ratchet and Clank. LBP as well, but I've never been into build your won games games. I never complained about lack of gameplay in Sonys conference. I pointed it out because some 'fans' tried to imply Sony always show gameplay and Xbox doesn't. When in fact Xbox show had more gameay than Sonys.
  • 1) You complained that the majority of the games were timed exclusive.
    We've had 22 timed exclusives in MS's event. Same thing. 2) You complained that it had "small DLC type" expansions.
    MS had loads of that too but you praised these since it's done by MS. 3) The media called out MS for promising gameplay and failed to show much. They attacked the built up and the lies that were used to promote the event.
    AND YOU WERE criticising Sony for their lack of gameplay/ Here is your EXACT quote:
    "Even Digital Foundry called Sonys event out for the same thing. A serious lack of actual gameplay. Lots of sites have been honest and called Sony out the same way. Lots of in engine cutscenes. Little gameplay outside R&C and Oddworld. In fact R&C was the only actual gameplay demo. Where you physically see a real section of the game. Even over on VGChartz the rating for it was around 6/10. And that's a Predominant Sony site."
    Enough said... 4) You said R&C was the only game they showed that was only possible on next Gen consoles due to SSD.
    None of what show is only possible using the next gen console, but you wouldn't bring that up... 5) You complained about the lack of line up at launch but it has more than XB's. And yet you don't say anything about that, and even praising MS's launch titles by talking of some timed exclusives. Well, I hate time exclusives and Sony also have their own