Microsoft is having a stellar year for gaming, with titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Age of Empires IV, and Forza Horizon 5 all breaking franchise records in quick succession. Forza Horizon 5 hit 4.5 million players after just 24 hours of general availability, boosted by the value proposition offered by Xbox Game Pass.
Much like Netflix, ensuring Xbox Game Pass has a steady flow of new subscribers is at the top of Microsoft's gaming agenda. A steady flow of new subscribers means the firm needs a steady flow of new content, and they're investing more in that area than ever before. We know about upcoming Xbox games titles like Halo Infinite, Starfield, State of Decay 3, and Redfall, but we've been offering a sneak peek at some as-of-yet unannounced exclusives too. Microsoft's publishing arm is working hard on partner titles like Project Dragon from IO Interactive, and Project Belfry from Stoic Studios, among various others. Internally, we have Project Cobalt from inXile, and we recently detailed Avowed gameplay from Obsidian I'd been lucky enough to see early. Recently, we were tipped on some new exclusive details for upcoming Xbox games as well.
Compulsion's Project 'Midnight'
Compulsion joined Microsoft near the start of their content acquisition spree. The firm is known primarily for We Happy Few, which despite some gameplay problems, delivered big in the art direction department. We Happy Few's twisted vision of a fallen Britain proved a truly intriguing concept, and solidified Compulsion as a studio with a lot of potential.
Recently, we received some details on Compulsion's first outing as part of Xbox Game Studios. Currently codenamed "Midnight," this upcoming title is supposedly a third-person action game set in a dark and fantastical world. Some of the game's early concept artwork can be seen above. They represent the game's protagonist, alongside warped harpy-like humanoids that appear to descend through various iterations of mutation. On the left, we can see what appears to be harpy nest-style dwellings built atop a tree.
Midnight is described as a "coming of age" tale drawing upon inspirations from America's Deep South. The game features magic and large fantastical beasts with a strong "southern gothic" vibe. The game is a wholly single-player experience, with what has been described to me as a "strong" story.
Right now I have no info on the launch timings of Midnight, but you're likely looking at the next couple of years for an official reveal and perhaps even a full launch, although it could come later depending on Compulsion's growth and ambitions for the title.
Recently revealed by Jeff Grubb on his premium Grubbsnax show, Obsidian's "indie"-style effort is emerging from a small team led by Josh Sawyer, famed for his leadership on what is arguably the best Fallout game; New Vegas, as well as a personal fave, Pillars of Eternity.
I recently revealed the game's name with my co-host Rand_Al_Thor_19 on our Xbox Two podcast. It's being called "Pentiment," which refers to "an underlying image in a painting, especially one that has become visible when the top layer of paint has turned transparent with age," according to the dictionary. This naming convention hints at the game's premise, by which you act as an investigator in 16th century Europe uncovering the truth behind a grisly murder.
Grubb mentioned that Pentiment takes cues from the likes of Disco Elysium and the branching narrative designs Josh Sawyer is known for. You'll be able to investigate and make accusations against the characters in-game, which could lead to cascading consequences if you're wrong. It'll be a dialogue-heavy game with decisions to make and response options to choose from, which will shape your experience as you unwrap the murder conspiracy before you.
I am told that Pentiment is being built by a small team of around 12 people, and is more of a narrative RPG adventure than something combat-oriented. The art asset above may represent some of the designs the game is gunning for. Jeff Grubb also mentioned that Pentiment is exploring "experimental" gameplay elements, too, although they may ultimately not make it into the final release. Speaking of which, Grubb also noted that Pentiment is indeed gunning for a 2022 launch.
Even more games for Xbox
The underpinning reality among all these game projects is that Microsoft is investing more than ever into its first-party games portfolio. From smaller games like Pentiment to larger titles with hundreds of developers like Halo Infinite, Microsoft is all-in on ensuring that it can see off competition from some of the bigger players in the space. Some of the bigger trillion-dollar tech outfits like Apple, Google, and Amazon are all sitting up and realizing that there's something serious about this whole core gaming thing, as companies like Netflix begin to explore adding gaming features to their subscription services.
Microsoft is showing no signs of slowing down either. Xbox chief Phil Spencer this week noted that he's exploring expanding Microsoft's casual gaming portfolio through acquisitions, and I also received word of yet another upcoming Xbox Publishing partnership, codenamed "Vonnegut," presumably after the novelist Kurt Vonnegut, although beyond the game's codename, I have no information on exactly what that is or who could be making it. Vonnegut falls alongside another first-party title codenamed "Velvet," although, once again, very little is known about who or what it could be.
With Xbox smashing all sorts of records right now, I firmly believe we could be entering a second golden age of Xbox, with a steady cadence of high-quality titles now becoming a consistent reality for customers in the ecosystem.