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Xbox Series X|S launch library is massive but still disappointing

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

I've experienced quite a few console generations in my lifetime, and I have to admit, I love getting sucked into the hype of it all: the constant speculation, learning about the technology under the hood, and of course, all of the new games. That last part is the most important, and it's one of the biggest problems I have with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S launch library — where are all the new games?

Xbox Series X|S New console, old games

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

The console-defining exclusive is one of the hallmarks of a new generation. It's a game so necessary to the enjoyment of a new console, and when done right, is capable of almost single-handedly moving a lot of units. Past generations have had at least one big gun in their corner. The original Xbox launched with the juggernaut known as Halo, the Xbox 360 launched with Call of Duty 2, Project Gotham Racing 3, and more, and even the Xbox One launched with Forza Motorsport 5, Killer Instinct, and Ryse: Son of Rome. However, with the delay of Halo Infinite, Microsoft found itself with no killer app at launch, and not a single new first-party release. It hopes to soften the blow with two major selling points — the console's extensive backward compatibility support, and it's Game Pass offerings, which are both great in their own right.

The Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's digital gaming subscription service that offers more than 100 titles, including all of its first-party releases, and allows you to access them on the Xbox One, Windows 10, Android, and now Xbox Series X|S. The value on offer here is tremendous, and even greater when you consider that new first-party releases drop day one on Game Pass. Factor in the new console's backward compatibility, and you have three generations of Xbox games available to you the moment you connect your console to the internet.

Xbox Series S Dashboard

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

While this is technically the biggest launch lineup in video game history, most of the launch consists of games I played years ago. When I look at the new games launching on the system — games like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War — I realize that I can play almost all of the launch lineup on my current console. Of course, the Series X|S versions will look better and run smoother than their Xbox One counterparts and take advantage of new visual features like ray tracing that just aren't possible on current-gen machines. That might be enough of a game-changer for some, but it's not the next-gen experience I was expecting.

While this may be enough of a draw for some people, it's a shame that there's not one game at launch that makes use of the massive power contained in this machine beyond reflections in a puddle of water or a building window. And just to be clear, the PlayStation 5's launch lineup is just as lackluster, though it does have a few first-party exclusives, namely the remake of Demon Souls and Astro's Playroom.

That not to say the Series X|S is just delivering 1:1 versions of current-gen games. The power of the system is not to be understated. The optimizations seen in select titles offer a glimpse at the real power of the Series X|S. Through the console's Smart Delivery service, the Xbox Series X and S can update current generation games with new updates that give older games a fresh coat of paint. Gears 5, for example, will support higher resolutions on Xbox Series X and can support 120 FPS in multiplayer, which brings the game to that of a PC running at full ultra-level settings.

Next-gen? Maybe next year

So what are we left with then? A launch lineup of games that can mostly be played elsewhere on older machines, a back catalog of games I played 10 years ago, and optimized versions of the games I've already been playing.

With everything that has happened in 2020, it's nothing short of a miracle that a new system launched at all, and what Microsoft has made available at launch makes the Xbox Series X|S an excellent value, I just wish there was a game or two that offered a truly next-gen experience at launch.

But I remain hopeful — new consoles tend to hit their stride after the first few years, and with 15 game studios in their camp, including Fallout and Elder Scrolls publisher Zenimax Media, Microsoft is poised to have an army of heavy hitters once they're able to harvest the fruits of their labor. I'm excited to see what is in store for this generation of gaming, we'll just have to wait a little longer to find out what the system is really capable of.

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.

17 Comments
  • Well, welcome to 2020.
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • I'm pretty excited, I skipped out on the One X to just wait for Scarlet. Now I got my Series X and am going to play as much of my back catalog as possible before 2077! So different strokes I guess!
  • "not a single new first-party release" That's not true. There's Gears Tactics.
  • Its talk like this that will push people away when it's not as bad as it seems. the flagellation is strong in this community.
  • I kind of understand, but at the same time when I booted my console today the only thing I was disappointed in was the HUGE downloads for patches and slow ass downloads/transfers.
  • Yep, it is what it is...like you, my backlog is massive. Haven't even gotten around to playing the witcher yet.
  • Hah I'm a completionist when it comes to gaming and I put in a good 300 hours into the witcher 3 plus expansions
  • Let me know how far you get delivering a next gen console the same year a pandemic got dropped on your head. You bloggers are so out of touch. No one is forcing anyone to buy an XSX or PS5. If you really want NeXt gEn gAmeS and can't live without them, then honestly just save your money and wait. Personally I'm planning on getting and XSX because I got a new 4K TV and want a 4K Blu-ray player to go with. All my disc players are consoles so I can use them for gaming when I want, so the XSX looks like the best call to me.
  • Ah, the old "well you couldn't do better so you have to put up with a sub par experience". It's a stupid argument and people should stop doing it. If you took your car to a mechanic to fix an oil leak and it continues to leak oil you wouldn't say "oh well, I couldn't have done any better so I'll just leave it" (just assume for this hypothetical you don't know how to fix an oil leak, just in case you decide to be a smart arse and point out that you could fix it yourself). No, you wouldn't do that, you'd take it back to the place you had it repaired and tell them to fix it properly. The same applies for any product, consoles included. Now I personally, have never experienced an incredible launch line up for a console (well, something like the NES would have been awesome but I was young at the time so it was amazing regardless), they have all been pretty mediocre. But it would actually be nice if a company decided to buck this trend, that being said, the Series launch is definitely the lightest on NEW content, and that's a real shame.
  • Personally I think buying the new console is best done a few months later. Any software issues etc etc can be patched, better bundled deals with games etc from shops and just no stress with pre-order crap.
  • Agree with all your points, Zack, the pros and the cons. But two huge benefits were forgotten in your article: adding EA Play and xCloud gaming to GPU. You kind of mentioned xCloud, but these are two huge value adds. Of course you don't need either of the two new consoles to take advantage of these, but the console's new architecture will certainly allow you to enjoy them at their best - and fastest ;)
  • It's like when companies release a powerful new CPU or graphics adapter.
    What's the immediate new killer app you buy it for?
  • Exactly, I don't understand either. The fact is that, as hardware advances, law of diminishing returns will naturally set in. Graphics advancement becomes less noticeable. This is normal. At this point, the only significant difference we should expect is in performance, and rightly so. And the Series X delivers 100%.
    I would argue that any game right now 'exclusively' releasing on the XSX or PS5 is only an artificial limitation. In some form, games released on the XSX and PS5 can run at some lower performance on X1 and PS4.
  • That one is easy, Crysis.
  • The biggest problem with these is that when you get it home and plug it in, it looks exactly like your old xbox. I know why they did it but they really needed a brand new dashboard for the new xbox series. There's just not enough to make it feel that much better. If someone had snuck an Xbox One into a Series X case and gave it to me, I'm not sure I would have noticed for a few days. (at least until some more games come out)
  • Not if you're playing Gears5, Sekiro, FFXV, DMC5 at silky smooth 4K60fps. Of course you'd notice
  • That's exactly what Microsoft is trying to accomplish, they want you to plug in the new box and not have to learn anything new. Just download your games and play them like you did on the old console except for they perform better and all of your previous accessories work just the same on the old box or the new box. It's like a PC when you upgrade something. You don't turn that on and it magically be different, it's just better. Now maybe you might enjoy buying a new box and it having all new look and whatever and then having to buy all new accessories and probably have to rebuy some of the same games because you want to play them on the new box but the new box won't play the games from the old box and you sold your old box to get the new box. All of that is avoided with the way Microsoft is doing things and all I can say is that it is about damn time.