A couple of days ago, Microsoft showed off another collection of games coming to the Xbox Series X. The console will launch later this year – barring any last-minute delays – and will be facing very stiff competition from Sony’s PlayStation 5. In fact, Xbox seems like it’s repeating some of the same crucial mistakes which left it lagging far behind PlayStation’s sales numbers this generation – and the only way to salvage that, at least in the short term, may be to massively undercut Sony’s new console and sell the Xbox Series X at a very low price.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom from Microsoft’s second attempt at showing off gameplay – I like the look of Avowed, the upcoming game from Obsidian, for example – but generally the reaction to what they showed was muted and underwhelmed. The most stinging criticism was reserved for Halo Infinite, particularly in the graphics department. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, games already look pretty good on current-gen consoles in 2020. And if “better graphics” is basically all a new console has to offer, then those graphics need to be outstanding in order to win people over. Microsoft has shot itself in the foot in that regard by making every Xbox Series X title – including Halo Infinite – also available on Xbox One, at least for the first year or so of the new console’s life. What this means in practice is that any new title is constrained by the system requirements of the original Xbox One – hardware which is now seven years out of date.
Many commentators have said that Halo Infinite looks like a current-gen title. But it is a current-gen title – it’s literally going to be released on the Xbox One, which is a current-gen machine. Everything in Halo Infinite from the ground up has had to be built with that limitation in mind. Even being “enhanced” for the Xbox Series X, Halo Infinite could only go so far. And as I said, when graphics already look decent on current-gen consoles, it’s already a difficult task to show off how much better a game could look on a newer device. That’s without deliberately limiting that game by making it compatible with machines that are now seven years old.
The Halo series has been Xbox’s “killer app” since the first days of the original machine in 2001, but its star quality has been in decline since Bungie left the series a decade ago. The generally average-looking graphics that the newest entry in the series offers, combined with its simultaneous release not only on Xbox One but also on PC, will leave many gamers scratching their heads. Why exactly should I buy an Xbox Series X this winter?
I literally cannot see a reason. Games are what sell consoles – good, pretty, exclusive games. Many of the titles that will be available will be good; Avowed, as mentioned, looks like it has great potential, and I’m also looking forward to Grounded. While some of these games will be designed to take advantage of the Series X’s features to look shinier and prettier, line them up side-by-side with the Xbox One versions – which will look good, as games on that system already do – and if folks struggle to tell the difference, how does Microsoft intend to convince them to spend several hundred pounds (or dollars) on a new system? When none of the games are exclusive and can be played on the older system, if I’m a gamer who already has an Xbox One, what’s the point in upgrading?
In that sense, Microsoft is now having to compete not only with Sony, but the Xbox Series X is competing against the Xbox One – and there’s a clear winner in that regard. Exclusive games can shift millions of systems – I’ve known many people over the years who’ve picked up a console because one game in particular enticed them, and I’ve even been in that position myself. Launching a console with zero exclusive games, and with all of its games also available on the previous generation console seems absolutely bonkers – and I have no doubt Microsoft will see a lacklustre launch for its new system.
The only possible saving grace at this stage is to massively undercut the PlayStation 5 – if the Xbox Series X can be £100-150 cheaper, suddenly it seems a little more enticing. £100 could score two new launch titles, or almost a year of GamePass, the subscription service which is one of Xbox’s few genuinely appealing offerings. Price can play a role in console launches, and it’s no coincidence that the consoles which had the strongest launches in the last two console generations – the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 4 – were both the less expensive option compared with their competitors.
I primarily play on PC. In fact one of my projects over the next few months is to make some upgrades to my gaming setup so I can enjoy things like ray-tracing and perhaps even higher frame rates. So I wasn’t going to be a day-one console buyer this generation regardless of how the new lineup looks. But if I were, I can’t see any reason to buy an Xbox Series X at launch. The only thing that might be able to sway me is price, because if I could make such a significant saving that I could get a year’s subscription to GamePass, and thus access a large library of titles from day one, that’s not a bad offering.
Maybe Xbox will surprise me, and it will turn out that this policy of having no exclusive titles will be a masterstroke, bringing more people into the Xbox brand. I’m just having a hard time seeing how it’s supposed to appeal to a gamer looking for a new console – and as someone who owned all three Xbox consoles in the past I want to see them do well. In fact it’s arguably a necessity – if Xbox fails, there’ll be far less competition in the home console market. Monopolies rarely end well for consumers, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to see at least two companies making a go of it.
At the end of the day, I’m simply not convinced that Xbox has the best approach. PlayStation’s offering for the imminent console generation just seems far more appealing, and unless Xbox can find a way to offer their new machine at a much lower price, I’d expect a clear majority of people who plan to get a next-generation console this year will opt for a PlayStation 5. I know I would. And I’ve always been an Xbox guy.
The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are scheduled to launch in time for Christmas 2020. All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their parent companies, studios, developers, publishers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.