It's finally happening; 2021 is coming to an end. The year has, quite frankly, sucked, but for the Xbox brand, 2021 has been one of its best years ever. Between the continued growth of Xbox Game Pass, the addition of PC Game Pass, the arrival of the high-quality Xbox Cloud Gaming service, and the launch of several high-profile exclusives like Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, and Age of Empires IV, 2021 has been filled with success after success for Microsoft's Xbox division. But with numerous other highly-anticipated exclusives on the way, it's clear that 2021 is only the beginning.
As we move into 2022, my eyes are locked on the horizon. There are five upcoming Xbox exclusives that I'm incredibly hyped for, and if they're anywhere near as good as Halo Infinite, I'm going to be having a lot of fun with my Xbox Series X and gaming PC in 2022.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl (April 28, 2022)
My most anticipated upcoming Xbox and PC exclusive is STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl (I don't even have to feel bad saying that now that the STALKER 2 developers have canceled their NFT plans for the game). Like the original STALKER games, STALKER 2 promises fans a tense and thrilling open world-style adventure and incredible shooter in the game's fictional version of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Filled with terrifying mutants, highly-organized groups of bandits and paramilitary troops, supernatural anomalies, and more, STALKER 2's Exclusion Zone sounds like it's going to be every bit as captivating as the one PC players have been exploring since STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl's 2007 release. To keep things fresh, the developers have committed to evolving STALKER's survival mechanics, adding new mutants and factions, and creating a brand new non-linear story for the sequel.
Built in Unreal Engine 5, STALKER 2 also looks phenomenal, with pre-release screenshots showing gorgeous lighting effects and immaculate texture work. What GSC Game World is creating with STALKER 2 is incredibly ambitious, and as someone who has been a massive fan of the STALKER series for years, I can't wait to play it.
Avowed (Late 2022/early 2023)
Skyrim has been out for over 10 years now, and while I've thoroughly enjoyed modding the hell out of the game with some great Skyrim Special Edition PC mods, I've got an itch for a new Skyrim-style adventure. Obsidian Entertainment — the developers behind legendary titles like Fallout: New Vegas and the more recent The Outer Worlds — appear to be granting my wish with Avowed, a new, ambitious fantasy RPG.
Set in the same universe as Obsidian's CRPG Pillars of Eternity, Avowed reportedly features two-handed, first-person combat reminiscent of Skyrim's, giving players a huge variety of different options for buildcrafting and roleplaying. Traditional RPG character types like sword-and-shield warriors and magic-wielding mages can be created, but players will also be able to mix and match these elements. For example, if you want to play as a spellsword with a blade in one hand and magic in the other, you can.
Avowed's world will also likely be more vibrant and colorful than The Elder Scrolls, making it similar to The Outer Worlds in that respect. On top of that, the environments will also likely be destructible to a degree, as blocked pathways that can be burned down with fire magic were visible in early pieces of footage seen by my colleague, Jez Corden. Obsidian Entertainment is also known for its excellent storytelling, which gives me reason to believe that Avowed will have a rich and satisfying narrative as well.
Starfield (Nov. 11, 2022)
If Avowed is a fantasy-style spiritual successor to Skyrim's combat, Bethesda's Starfield is applying Skyrim's open world exploration to the boundless expanse of outer space. Described as "Skyrim in space" by Bethesda's Todd Howard, Starfield will be a grounded and realism-focused science fiction RPG that primarily focuses on exploring the stars.
Starfield is set 300 years in the future and is best described as a "Han Solo" type of experience. Bethesda Managing Director Ashley Cheng summarized Starfield's gameplay loop as, "get in a ship, explore the galaxy, do fun stuff." Bethesda is also working hard to build up and flesh out Starfield's lore, suggesting that its universe could eventually compare to the likes of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls in terms of scope and size.
Built in Bethesda's new Creation 2 engine, Starfield has been visually described as a "NASA punk" game, featuring an artistic direction that's much less out there compared to other sci-fi universes like Star Trek or Star Wars. In terms of themes, Todd Howard has stated that Starfield will focus heavily on existential topics such as humanity's role in the universe as well as our natural curiosities about what awaits us throughout the stars. Starfield sounds like an incredibly fascinating RPG, and I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth in it when it launches on Nov. 11, 2022 — exactly 11 years after Skyrim's original release.
Redfall (Summer 2022)
These days, I find it hard to get excited about most co-op looter shooters; Destiny 2 already occupies enough of my gaming time as it is! But Arkane Studios' Redfall is an exception that has me incredibly intrigued. Set in the fictional town of Redfall in Massachusetts, Redfall pits you and a squad of allies against deadly vampires that have blocked out the sun and threaten to feast on the town's inhabitants.
Like most co-op shooters, you'll be able to pick from a diverse cast of characters that each have their own unique abilities. Additionally, a recent leak showed that Redfall will feature weapon perks and rarity tiers, further indicating that the game will be structured like a looter shooter. The world will be open in nature and will allow players to explore the town and its surrounding areas.
What ultimately has me interested in Redfall is its premise and narrative potential. Whereas most co-op looter shooters tend to feature a futuristic sci-fi theme, Redfall instead leans into folklore and fantasy with its vampire enemies. Arkane Studios is also known for its narrative prowess and world building, which has me excited to see how the story pans out. If the narrative is as good as the story is in other Arkane games like Prey and Deathloop, we'll finally have a modern looter with good storytelling other than Destiny 2. That narrative hook will likely keep me playing Redfall long past its anticipated release.
As Dusk Falls
I've always been a sucker for games with unique visual styles, so when developer Interior/Night first teased its upcoming interactive drama As Dusk Falls, I was immediately struck by the game's combination of stylized 2D and 3D animation that blurs the lines between a graphic novel and animated film. The art direction of As Dusk Falls is nothing short of stunning, and that alone makes me want to play it.
The visuals aren't the only thing about As Dusk Falls that looks appealing. The game's story also caught my attention. It's centered around how two families interact with one another over the course of 30 years within a small town in Arizona. The beginning of the game will start in 1999 as both families find themselves involved in an armed robbery, and choices the player makes from that point forward will directly influence what happens next.
The developers have stated that thematically, players can expect a story about "betrayal, sacrifice, and resilience." Additionally, the story will also tackle "real life subject matters that anyone could relate to because it happened to them directly, or at least to someone they know." In an industry that often focuses on grand concepts with deep fantasy and sci-fi universes as a backdrop, As Dusk Falls' down-to-Earth narrative sounds like it's going to stand out in the best possible way.
The future of Xbox is very bright, and with all the Xbox and PC exclusives on the way, Microsoft's is poised to continue succeeding well into 2022 and beyond. Between tense and atmospheric games like STALKER 2, exploration-driven RPGs like Starfield, and unique, down-to-earth experiences like As Dusk Falls, there's a lot to be excited for if you're an Xbox gamer.
All five of the games mentioned here, as well as all other Xbox exclusives, are also coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one. If you're not already a Game Pass subscriber and you've been thinking about joining the program, now is a great time to start.
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