What to expect from video games this holiday season

Forza Horizon 5 Store Screenshot
Forza Horizon 5 Store Screenshot (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios | Microsoft Store)

We're into the second half of 2021 now and with a chaotic summer of events mostly behind us (as our editor Carli Velocci put it, E3 2021 was a hot mess) we've finally got a solid idea of just what the holiday slate looks like.

At the start of the year, I noted that we'd see tons of game delays this year, something that has held true through the first six months. A handful of high-profile titles aside — thank you, Resident Evil Village and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart — it's been sparse. The pandemic led to delays in 2020, with many studios having to transition to remote environments, as one factor. Things haven't stabilized yet even though the pandemic is winding down (in the U.S. at least), but we at least have a btter idea of which games are likely to hit their current targets this year and which ones won't.

We at least have a btter idea of which games are likely to hit their current targets this year and which ones won't.

While not quite as packed as past fall menegerie lineups, there's a solid third-party slate that's unlikely to move around too much. Battlefield 2042, Back 4 Blood, Far Cry 6 and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy are aiming for October. The next Call of Duty has yet to be unveiled but Activision won't allow that game to miss this year, no matter what, so it's also likely to land in the late October to early November period.

While the fall seems shooter-centric, there's certainly variety to be found. Nintendo's also throwing its hat in the October gaming octagon with Metroid Dread, while Playground Games' Forza Horizon 5 has an early November release date and looks absolutely stunning running on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

Halo Infinite (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Horizon Forbidden West May 27 Underwater (Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Source: Xbox Game Studios and Sony Interactive Entertainment

Where things get even more interesting is in the big games that don't currently have release dates, specifically in the marquee titles from both Xbox and PlayStation. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has recently indicated that Halo Infinite is going to arrive this year, with 343 Industries trying to nail down a specific day within a small three-week range or so. I'm inclined to believe him, as the delay from last holiday wasn't a small one and the multiplayer footage shown looks extremely good, garnering near-universal praise across the Halo community.

Horizon Forbidden West is easily the biggest question mark this year. While I previously wrote that I'd be shocked if it was delayed, Sony Worldwide Studios President Hermen Hulst admitted performance capture restrictions during the global pandemic seriously impacted the development of both Guerrilla Games' next adventure with Aloy and the next God of War. However, PlayStation says it's still aiming for a holiday 2021 release.

Sony doesn't truly need Horizon Forbidden West out this year.

Bluntly, this one's a coin toss and at this point it won't be surprising to see it go either way. The PS5 is selling out as fast as it gets in stock and Sony doesn't truly need Horizon Forbidden West out this year and there's no reason to place the team under strain when the game could easily slide into a late Februrary release date, just like its predecessor. All in all, the end of this year should be fairly stable and should hopefully indicate not a return to normalcy but rather signal a return to a gaming deluge.

All the big players are looking to have a great 2022. The next God of War and Gran Turismo 7 will make splashes for PlayStation, while Redfall and Starfield are putting Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda to work for Xbox. Nintendo's open world Pokémon Legends: Arceus will help kick 2022 off, while the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is "aiming" for a 2022 release window.

Combined with the sheer number of games delayed out of 2021, there's plenty of reasons to be perhaps more excited for 2022. Developers can't overcome reality but they have gotten better at understanding the effects the pandemic had on development, meaning that we should hopefully see fewer delays next year. Instead, there'll be a lot more waiting to announce release windows until the teams are certain, which is beneficial for players and less stressful for the developers alike.

Things are looking brighter.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.