Xbox recently hosted its Games Showcase event – an addendum to Summer Games Fest, which has effectively replaced this year’s E3 industry event. The Showcase was generally pretty decent, with a focus being on games that will be released over the next twelve months. Some big games like Valheim and Redfall took centre stage, and there was news or updates about the likes of Grounded, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even Fall Guys – the latter of which is belatedly launching on Xbox (and Nintendo Switch) in just a few days’ time.
Having recently been gobbled up by Microsoft’s expanding gaming division, Bethesda had a lot to say about Starfield. Though the game has recently been delayed until the first half of 2023, the Xbox Games Showcase event provided a massive update on the game and showed players a first look at gameplay. That’s what we should be talking about; that should be the headline for Bethesda coming out of their big summer presentation. But it isn’t, at least not in a lot of publications.
Bethesda chief Todd Howard chose to drop the “announcement” – if we can even call it that – that Fallout 5 will be the studio’s next-but-one big project, and that news has grabbed headlines and stolen attention away from Starfield right at the moment when you’d think its marketing campaign should be beginning in earnest. I just don’t really understand why it was necessary to make this so-called “announcement” and confirm what most players and fans had already been assuming.
Firstly, if Starfield brings in rave reviews, massive player numbers, and goes on to be the success that Bethesda and Microsoft must be hoping for, then surely a sequel should enter the conversation. By stating now, before Starfield has even launched, that Fallout 5 will follow The Elder Scrolls VI as Bethesda’s next-but-one project, that seems to push any kind of Starfield sequel even further away. If decisions need to be made in future to change that around for whatever reason, some people are going to be left upset. There’s literally no upside to talking about Fallout 5 at this juncture.
The same could have been said, arguably, about The Elder Scrolls VI when that was similarly “announced” at E3 in 2018. With the game so far off, talking about it so soon seemed premature at best. In that case, though, there was a case to be made that the constant stream of re-releases for Skyrim, the fact that there had never been such a long gap in between Elder Scrolls games, the releases of not one but two Fallout titles, and Starfield being in active development all combined to make it worthwhile to make a commitment to Elder Scrolls fans that their series hadn’t been forgotten.
With Fallout, there just isn’t any need. Fallout 4 was released in November 2015, and that was followed up by the (disastrous and unplayable) Fallout 76 just three years later. Fallout 76 continues to receive attention and updates, some of which have been pretty substantial, so there isn’t that same feeling of abandonment that some Elder Scrolls fans had been feeling in the wake of a lack of follow-up to Skyrim. Though I’d still suggest that announcing The Elder Scrolls VI in 2018 was premature, at least there was a kind of logic to it – a logic that this “announcement” of Fallout 5 lacks.
The Elder Scrolls VI was also announced with a slick teaser – obviously no gameplay, but at least a look at a pretty landscape and a logo. Fallout 5 got no such fanfare, with the news of its planned existence seemingly being an off-the-cuff remark dropped haphazardly in an interview with IGN. Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Bethesda needs to help Todd Howard with his interviews so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again!
Starfield has been Bethesda’s biggest and longest project to date, having been worked on for at least a decade. Production officially began following the release of Fallout 4 in 2015 and ramped up in the wake of Fallout 76′s launch in 2018, so this has been a massive undertaking. The Elder Scrolls VI will be comparable in scale, and if it follows a similar timeline to Starfield it may not be ready until 2027 or 2028. If Fallout 5 likewise takes five-plus years in active development, we’re potentially talking about a release window sometime in the early/mid-2030s. So why on earth should we be talking about this game now?!
One of the reasons why video game corporations like sequels is that there’s a built-in fanbase. Fans of Fallout 3 turned up for Fallout 4; fans of Oblivion turned up for Skyrim… and so on. Starfield represents much more of a risk compared with the likes of a new Elder Scrolls or Fallout title, and as a result it needs to be handled carefully, marketed cleverly, and not overshadowed by the bigger and more illustrious franchises that its parent company owns.
The mere act of mentioning Fallout 5 – which had not been discussed by anyone senior at Bethesda or Microsoft prior to this – has completely stolen Starfield’s thunder coming out of the Xbox Games Showcase, and that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Bethesda’s mistakes and stumbles – some of which go back several years – have already meant that there’s a bit of a caveat in the minds of some players when they think about Starfield, so the game needs every boost it can possibly get. Being overshadowed by a new title, especially one that’s probably ten years away from being released, doesn’t help and has actually hurt Starfield at the moment players should be beginning to pay attention and, from Bethesda’s point of view at least, get excited for its launch next year.
Maybe this was just a mistake; a throwaway remark that Todd Howard didn’t really intend to make. If so, I guess it’s fair to say that we all make mistakes, these things happen, and to try to move on from it and refocus on Starfield. But it won’t be easy to do. There are already a ton of articles about Fallout 5 being “announced,” and that will lead to questions from fans and the gaming press drawing attention away from Starfield at what was supposed to be its first moment in the spotlight.
We could have spent today talking about the gameplay that was shown off, how things like jumping and jetpacking look like fun, and how incredibly excited I am to design and build my own spaceship! But instead we’re talking about a marketing screw-up and a game that, to be blunt, I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough to see! It was a mistake to even mention Fallout 5 this early, and if Starfield exceeds expectations and becomes Bethesda and Microsoft’s “next big thing,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a sequel planned sooner than expected. That could push back work on Fallout 5, upsetting fans. There was literally no upside to this at all, and the resultant reaction to Todd Howard’s statement has drawn attention away from Starfield at the precise moment when fans should have been excitedly talking about its gameplay reveal, new features, and the scale of the galaxy that Bethesda has created. What a mess!
Starfield will be released in the first half of 2023 for Xbox Series S/X and PC and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass. Fallout 5 has no release date scheduled. Starfield, the Fallout franchise, the Elder Scrolls franchise, and other titles and properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks. Some promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Forza Horizon 5 was released in November for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. It took a little while, but after spending quite a bit of time with the game over the past few weeks I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and share my thoughts!
Forza Horizon 5 is a big game. There are different kinds of races and events to participate in, ranging from multi-race championships all the way to smaller challenges and mini-events. The game’s open world is huge and offers varied terrains and scenery. And perhaps most importantly for a racing game, Forza Horizon 5 offers a veritable smorgasbord of cars to choose from.
What Forza Horizon 5 is not, though, is massively different from its predecessor. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 at all, you know the formula. This time around there’s more: the game world is bigger, there are more roads to drive on, more races and events to take part in, and so on. But it isn’t a fundamentally different experience – aside from the scenery changing from the quaint English countryside to the deserts, jungles, and beaches of Mexico, it’s basically an iterative instalment of the series. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for Forza Horizon 5; it’s a riff on the same concept, expanding it in some significant areas but without really breaking new ground. However, when the formula works, why shake it up too much? As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Horizon spin-off series has always taken a more casual approach than mainline games in the Forza Motorsport series, and that trend continues here. There’s a party atmosphere that runs through the entire game, with a handful of named characters who all take a very laid-back approach to running the titular Horizon festival. That feeling extends to gameplay, too. Races are organised seemingly haphazardly, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply by exploring the open world, making your own fun, and driving some fancy cars at high speed!
Forza Horizon 5 is perhaps the most accessible racing game I’ve played – except, maybe, for Mario Kart 8. The game is geared up for fans of arcade racing, with a “pick-up-and-play” attitude that feels perfectly aligned with the aforementioned casual, laid-back approach taken by characters within the game itself. That isn’t to say that Forza Horizon 5 presents no challenge – not at all. But this is a game that allows players to tailor the kind of challenge or fun that they want to the way that they like to play. There are options to tweak practically every aspect of single-player gameplay, meaning Forza Horizon 5 would be a great introduction to racing games for a complete newbie – but a game that experienced racing fans can enjoy as well.
As a gamer with disabilities, I always appreciate games that go out of their way to be accommodating. In Forza Horizon 5, it’s possible to slow down single-player gameplay to give players more time to react or make moves. It’s possible to see a guide line on the ground or along racetracks pointing players in the right direction. And there are different levels of assistance; cars can be set up to brake automatically, for example, as well as change gears. Forza Horizon 5 also recommends specific cars for specific races, ensuring that players who aren’t familiar with cars or racing games won’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation.
None of these things have to be used, and they can all be turned off for players who want a more realistic or challenging racing experience. The game has pre-set difficulty options, but within those pre-sets it’s possible to tweak many different individual characteristics so players can get the kind of experience that they want. This really does open up the game to many different skill levels, and Forza Horizon 5 would be a great game for someone brand-new, a kid seeking a more realistic racer than the likes of Mario Kart, and everyone else all the way up to racing simulation fanatics.
Forza Horizon 5 also brings a lot of customisation options to the table. Every car (at least, every car that I’ve unlocked so far) can be customised. Cars can be repainted in every colour of the rainbow, and can have custom liveries applied – including advertising logos for famous brands. There’s already a bustling customisation scene, with players from all over the world sharing their custom creations for others to download and use in-game. I love a game with strong customisation elements, and Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers in that regard!
As I was getting started with Forza Horizon 5, I actually found myself getting a little emotional. As you may know, I’m non-binary – meaning that my gender identity falls in between male and female, and I prefer to use they/them pronouns. When setting up my Forza Horizon 5 character, the option to use they/them was present alongside male and female pronouns – something that was amazing for me, and for other non-binary players as well I hope. It’s still quite rare to see games offer this option, so it was an incredibly welcome surprise.
I’m not the world’s biggest car enthusiast. My knowledge of cars mostly comes courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the crew of Top Gear! But for people who know more about cars than I do, I reckon Forza Horizon 5 has a lot to offer. Although the game goes out of its way to be accessible and to have cars ready-to-race from the moment of being unlocked or purchased, there are still plenty of tuning options to fiddle about with. At the game’s uppermost echelons, where elite players are duking it out and races are won or lost by the millisecond, perhaps some of these things will make a difference. I’m not at that level – but some folks are, and there are tuning and customisation guides already for many of the game’s vehicles.
Although Forza Horizon 5 includes a lot of ultra-expensive supercars from manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Lamborghini, I think it’s great that the game offers classic cars, “normal” street cars, and even some novelty vehicles or cult favourites as well. For example, the game includes a classic Land Rover (a personal favourite of mine), as well as every nerd’s favourite car: the DeLorean! There’s a VW Camper available, a classic Mini, a Morris Minor, as well as a Hummer, and even a car taken straight from Hot Wheels! In short, there’s fun to be had with some of these vehicles, and while some may not be suitable for winning every race or clocking the fastest time, for having fun driving around the game’s open world I think some of these additions are absolutely fantastic!
Some racing games offer light-hearted fun, and for me, Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely that kind of game. I can pick it up for even just a few minutes at a time, hop into a race or two, and then put it down knowing I can do the same thing again later on. It absolutely can be more than that; players with the inclination can take it more seriously, spend more time on their vehicles, and really push hard to get the best lap times and reach the top of the various leaderboards. That’s not the way I personally play – but the fact that Forza Horizon 5 has plenty to offer to all kinds of players is a huge mark in its favour in my book!
I’m a subscriber to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass, so for me Forza Horizon 5 was available on release day to download and play at no extra cost. On that basis, I’m thrilled with the game. That being said, for folks who don’t like the idea of a subscription or who like owning games outright, I can absolutely recommend Forza Horizon 5 as a purchase. Game Pass is a great service, but I recognise that it isn’t for everyone. When I looked at Halo Infinite a few weeks ago I said that paying £55 for just the campaign felt a bit much, so getting the game on Game Pass made a lot of sense. But there’s a heck of a lot of value in Forza Horizon 5 for players of varying skill levels and with varying levels of interest in cars – so it feels like a solid buy.
I think that’s all I have to say about this one! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5 and I’m looking forward to jumping back in and getting into my next race. See you on the track!
Forza Horizon 5 is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. Forza Horizon 5 is the copyright of Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios, Xbox Game Studios, and/or Microsoft. Promotional images and artwork courtesy of Xbox and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.
I was blindsided by the recent announcement of Star Trek: Resurgence – a brand new video game set in the Star Trek galaxy. Though there have been a couple of crappy mobile games and the ever-present Star Trek Online, it’s been almost a decade since the last single-player video game in the Star Trek franchise… and that didn’t go too well!
On the whole, Star Trek as a franchise hasn’t been especially well-served in the video game realm, despite the fact that there’s always been a significant crossover between Trekkies and gamers. When compared to the Star Wars franchise, which boasts some truly excellent games, Star Trek titles have never really managed to cut through, and with only a couple of exceptions even the best Star Trek games have mostly been the preserve of existing fans.
Here’s hoping that Resurgence can change that! Early indications are actually pretty good: the game’s announcement came at the Game Awards, one of the biggest industry events outside of E3. Resurgence has been picked up by a number of gaming publications and websites, featuring on several lists of the “best announcements” made at the event. Because it’s been a while since there was a Star Trek game, I think that might actually work in Resurgence’s favour to an extent!
One of the main things that seems to have piqued the curiosity of many players is the pedigree of the developer: new studio Dramatic Labs. Dramatic Labs is a studio comprised of former writers and developers at Telltale Games, the studio behind titles like the incredibly well-received The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and the Batman adaptation. Many Telltale titles were exceptionally popular, with fans praising the quality of the writing and the unique branching stories that led to multiple narrative paths and several different endings.
I played through Telltale’s Batman game a few years ago and it was an enjoyable experience that was something different from many other titles. These narrative adventure games put storytelling and dialogue front-and-centre, allowing players to choose what to say at key moments and to influence the direction of the story through the choices they make. When I played through Batman it felt almost like an interactive film: a deep story, well-animated cut-scenes and sequences, but with many different moments at which I could choose what happened and which way the story would proceed.
The choices in games like these aren’t always obvious. In games like Mass Effect or Fallout, for example, there’s usually a “good guy” choice and a “bad guy” choice, sometimes with a neutral option thrown in for good measure. In Mass Effect you can, for example, choose to punch a news reporter or answer her questions, and in Fallout 3 you can choose to defuse a bomb or arm it and blow up a settlement. Both examples show how players can influence the story and shake up the game world, but in both cases it’s clearly telegraphed which are “good” and “bad” options. Telltale/Dramatic Labs titles don’t always make it so obvious!
For example, in the Batman game I mentioned, there are several points at which you have to make decisions that can have ramifications for the rest of the game but where the choice isn’t obvious. Choosing whether to save one character or another can end up creating a new villain to fight, or choosing to attend an event in costume as Batman can lead to a wholly different outcome than if Bruce Wayne attended without his disguise. These are just examples of the kind of branching narrative choices that Dramatic Labs is teasing us with in Resurgence.
We’re also promised third-person action sequences throughout Resurgence, and we saw examples of this in the trailer too. The official announcement also lists “shuttle piloting, phaser fights, tricorder scanning, stealth, and micro-gameplay mechanics” as things we’ll be able to do in the game. I’m not sure what “micro-gameplay mechanics” means in this instance; it sounds like it could be mini-games, and things like picking locks or computer hacking spring to mind as examples from other franchises. But it all sounds like a ton of fun!
From the trailer we got a glimpse of some of these systems in effect. There was a sequence with a character wearing an EV suit on what looked like the outer hull of a starship firing their phaser, a tricorder scanning sequence that looked like a lot of fun, and some sneaking around that was potentially representative of one of the stealth sections.
The idea of having two playable characters is fun, too, and we’ve seen a number of recent games do this to great effect. While we don’t know much at all about either of the playable characters, the fact that one is a senior bridge officer and the other is a non-commissioned engineer should mean we get to see two very different perspectives on the same story. Both characters should be approaching the situation from very different starting places, and that already sounds like something that could be a lot of fun. Aside from Chief O’Brien, we haven’t spent a lot of time with enlisted personnel before, and Resurgence might actually be the first time we’ve seen an enlisted crewperson as a playable video game character.
It was so great to see Spock in the trailer, and I felt that the voice actor did a creditable job at imitating Leonard Nimoy’s iconic performance. Whether Spock will have a major role to play in the story isn’t clear at this stage, but as one of Star Trek’s most legendary characters his presence should be interesting at the very least. Dramatic Labs has also teased that there may be other “fan-favourite” characters included in the game, but no details yet on who those characters could be.
Dramatic Labs promise that players will “make those similar tough choices that iconic Star Trek heroes have been forced to contend with.” This is emphasising the narrative choice aspect of the game, and reinforces what I said earlier about the difficulty of some of the choices in games of this nature. The story seems to involve two alien races “on the brink of war” – I didn’t recognise either of the alien races seen in the trailer. Resurgence sounds enthralling, and I’m really excited to get stuck in.
We need to set appropriate expectations, though, no matter how exciting it may be to finally get a new Star Trek game after such a long time! This isn’t going to be a sprawling adventure on the scale of something like Mass Effect, nor will it be an open-world title like Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a narrative adventure game, and that (hopefully) means that we’ll get a very strong and engaging story with a good degree of choice over how it proceeds. The third-person adventure elements look fun too, and I’m excited to try out things like phaser combat and tricorder scanning.
So keep an eye out for Resurgence when it arrives in the spring. Given the developers’ pedigree, I think Resurgence has the potential to appeal to fans of narrative titles and Telltale Games as well as Star Trek fans, and as long as the game is released in a bug-free state it has a lot of potential. Star Trek feels like a natural fit for a narrative adventure title, and it reminds me in some ways of games like Deep Space Nine: Harbinger and Hidden Evil from the late 1990s/early 2000s.
I’m trying not to get over-excited! I’ve been hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years, and hopefully Resurgence will be the first of many as the franchise continues to grow and expand. Regardless, I’m eagerly awaiting its Spring 2022 release! I hope you’ll come back when Resurgence is out for a full review.
Star Trek: Resurgence will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X in Spring 2022. Star Trek: Resurgence is the copyright of Dramatic Labs and ViacomCBS Consumer Products. The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Starfield.
The in-engine teaser trailer for upcoming space-themed role-playing game Starfield was a bit of a let-down at E3 back in June. There’d been a lot of hype and rumours before the event that something big was coming from Bethesda and that we’d get our first major look at the game, so to only see a highly stylised teaser that might as well have been totally “fake” wasn’t the best. But the company has recently put out three new mini-trailers showing off three of the locations in Starfield, as well as dropping some more tidbits of information about the game, so I thought we could take a look at what’s been revealed and start to get excited!
Remember, though, that too much hype can be a bad thing! Just look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 as a case in point. As fun as some of these bits of Starfield news may seem, it’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t yet had a real look at the game itself. And as much as I hate to be too negative, Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a good track record in recent years when it comes to big releases. Their overreliance on a massively out-of-date game engine is also a concern. But Starfield is still over a year away, so hopefully there’s enough time to iron out all of the issues!
With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about Starfield since E3 – with a healthy pinch of speculation and guesswork thrown in for good measure!
The United Colonies is described as “the most powerful established military and political faction in the game.” Their capital city – or capital planet, not sure how best to describe it! – looks like a futuristic Dubai or New York City; a wealthy, clean megacity. This is the city of New Atlantis, and it’s described as being a “melting pot” of different peoples.
The “melting pot” reference is clearly meant to give the city and the faction an American vibe; the United States often likes to see itself as a mixture of cultures. But it could also mean that the United Colonies is akin to something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets – semi-independent cultures and worlds co-existing, perhaps under some looser federal form of government.
I could be way off base with this, but it seems like the United Colonies isn’t going to be an evil or villainous faction. I didn’t get the sense that this was something like Star Wars’ Empire or First Order, but the fact that it’s described as being powerful – and with a strong military to boot – could mean that the player character is operating outside of the law, or that large parts of the game take place in areas beyond the United Colonies’ jurisdiction.
There were trees on New Atlantis, so the United Colonies clearly have some respect for greenery and the environment – even if just for aesthetic reasons. This is also something I think we can assume to be positive, as at least New Atlantis doesn’t have that overly industrialised, dystopian feel of some sci-fi megacities.
If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that only parts of New Atlantis will be able to be explored and visited. The teaser image depicted a huge building complex with more buildings and lights in the distance, but it seems like making all of that part of the map might be too difficult to pull off; the last thing any of us want is a bland, mostly empty map that’s superficially large but has nothing going on or no one to interact with (looking at you, Fallout 76). New Atlantis was specifically mentioned in the context of a spaceport, so perhaps the spaceport and surrounding area will be able to be visited.
Going all the way back to 1994’s Arena, Bethesda has created contiguous open worlds – that is, game worlds that are one large, single space. There have been examples where smaller areas branched off from the larger game world – such as Morrowind’s expansion pack Tribunal, for example. But by and large we’re talking about single open worlds. Starfield, with different planets to visit and a spaceship being used to travel between them, seems like it will be a game where the game world is broken into smaller chunks. Some of these planets may be quite large, but the concept represents a change from the way Bethesda has worked in the past.
Moving away from the United Colonies brings us to Neon, a watery planet with a facility run by the Xenofresh Corporation. This floating city resembles a large oil rig, and although the upper levels look well-lit and probably quite wealthy, I wonder if the lower levels of the platform might be home to the kind of sci-fi dystopia that didn’t seem to be present on New Atlantis!
The backstory of Neon was interesting – and perhaps the closest we’ve got so far to any “lore” of Starfield. The Xenofresh Corporation established Neon as a fishing platform, but soon stumbled upon a drug called “aurora” that they used to turn Neon into a pleasure city. Neon clearly operates outside of the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, and is the only place where this drug is legal.
Previous Bethesda games allowed players to take drugs and drink alcohol, complete with screen-wobbling consequences! I can’t imagine that the developers would mention this aurora drug at this stage if players weren’t going to be able to try it for themselves in-game, so I think we can be pretty confident that aurora will play some role in the game’s story. Perhaps smuggling it from Neon to planets where it’s illegal will be an option for players to make some extra cash! Neon also gave me vibes of Star Trek: Picard’s Freecloud – a similarly independent, pleasure-centric world.
The final location shown off was Akila. The Freestar Collective, of which Akila is the capital, is described as “a loose confederation of three distinct star systems.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but singling out the word “confederation” could indicate that this faction is villainous or adversarial. The Confederacy or Confederate States was the official name for the pro-slavery southern states that seceded in 1860-61, instigating the American Civil War. We’ve also seen the name “Confederacy” used in Star Wars, where the Confederacy of Independent Systems was the antagonist faction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Perhaps I have recent news reports on the brain, but something about the concept art for Akila reminded me of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain, smaller buildings, and hooded or cloaked figures all gave me the impression of that kind of settlement. Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be a Wild West frontier town, and this is reinforced by the narrator saying that all of the people in the Freestar Collective place a strong emphasis on personal freedom and liberty. The whole faction seems very libertarian, then!
Akila was definitely the most Star Wars-seeming settlement, and there are several locales from the Star Wars franchise that Bethesda may have used for inspiration here. It was on this planet that we learned about the first confirmed alien enemy – the ashta, described as being a mix between “a wolf and a velociraptor.” Yikes! As above, there’s no way this critter would be mentioned at this stage if it wasn’t going to be something players could interact with, and like other iconic Bethesda open-world monsters like Fallout’s deathclaw or The Elder Scrolls’ slaughterfish, I think this is something we’re going to do battle with!
So we know of three locations, each of which is controlled by a different faction. Presumably the Freestar Collective has at least two other planets under its control, as the narration specifically mentioned that the faction controls three star systems. Whether all three will be able to be visited or not is not clear, so I guess watch this space!
The Xenofresh Corporation could easily be in control of more worlds or settlements; I got the impression that it was the kind of mega-corporation that we often see in sci-fi, and thus it seems plausible that it controls holdings on other planets as well as its settlement of Neon.
The United Colonies would seem to be the most widespread and populous faction, but if players are potentially operating outside of its jurisdiction we may not get to visit all of the worlds that make up the United Colonies.
Then there’s the player’s faction or group – the organisation called Constellation, described as “the last group of space explorers.” The ship shown in the E3 teaser appears to belong to this group, so it’s assumed that the player will have some kind of relationship with them as well. If this faction is interested in exploration, they may not have a large settlement or permanent colony – but that’s pure speculation!
So that’s it for now. Starfield is still on course for a November ’22 release, but it goes without saying that that’s subject to change at any point between now and then. I’m tentatively looking forward to it, and nothing we’ve seen or heard so far has been offputting. If anything, these little teases are intriguing and make me want to learn more about the game, its backstory, and its factions and locales. I’m a little surprised that Bethesda didn’t include some of these details at E3; it would’ve been more impressive to give players a bit more information about the game rather than just sharing that stylised teaser trailer, and none of what’s recently been revealed seems like it couldn’t have been included a couple of months ago. This is all just backstory and concept art – things Bethesda certainly had at the time. But regardless, we’ve got another little tease of Starfield to pore over!
Starfield will be released on the 11th of November 2022 for PC and Xbox Series S/X. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Concept art featured above courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Alert: There are minor spoilers ahead for several of the games shown off at this year’s E3.
E3 2021 is over, and it was an interesting long weekend of games and gaming! I’m sure some people will come away disappointed – a lot of the games that were shown off aren’t being released imminently, with many of the bigger, most-anticipated titles not being launched until 2022. But overall, I had a good time. Because E3 was all-digital this year, the presentations were slicker and smoother, and while there were a couple of cringeworthy moments as presenters and CEOs were clearly talking to an empty room instead of a crowded auditorium, on the whole I think E3 benefits when the public stays away!
I mentioned this last year when Electronic Arts had their big annual presentation, but digital events really feel like the future. Live events have the potential to go wrong – very wrong, in some cases – and also drag on a lot longer. E3 this year was more concise, and several of the big presentations packed a lot of games into their hour or two. Though this is still a pandemic-riddled world, and that’s why E3 has gone digital this time around, I won’t be shocked to learn that future years will keep this kind of format.
With Sony skipping E3, Microsoft dominated proceedings. A number of big Xbox exclusives were shown off, and with the eyes of the world on the games industry in a way that seldom happens, I wonder if Sony will come to see the decision to stand alone as a mistake. There will be a Sony event later in the year – perhaps even this summer – but having missed the party at E3, Microsoft will come away dominating the gaming headlines in the days and weeks ahead.
Pandemic-related delays continue to afflict the industry, and some of the bigger titles shown off won’t hit shelves until next year at the earliest. Despite that, however, there are still big games coming out in the next few months – hopefully enough to tide us over until 2022! Though I didn’t subject myself to every minute of the presentations and chatter, I had fun with this year’s E3. It was generally well done, with plenty of exciting upcoming games to talk about – which is the point, after all.
Let’s take a look at my E3 roundup. I’ve picked out twenty games that I considered to be the most interesting (or the biggest) from this year’s E3. Here they are – in no particular order!
Number 1: Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 4 was the game that tempted me to sign up for Xbox Game Pass last year, so I’m definitely going to take a look at the next game in this fun racing series when it’s ready. Forza Horizon 5 will see the action jump to Mexico, using a similar semi-open world to the previous game, with different types of races, a multitude of cars to choose from, and a focus on a more arcade style of racing over the simulation of the mainline Forza Motorsport titles.
Forza has grown from humble beginnings to become Microsoft’s answer to Gran Turismo, and a fine addition to the Xbox and PC lineup. Mexico is an interesting idea for a setting, and it seems like there will be plenty of dusty deserts and paradise-like tropical beaches to race around. Racing games always manage to look fantastic, and Forza Horizon 5 was definitely one of the prettiest games on show at this year’s E3.
Number 2: Avatar – Frontiers of Pandora
This one was a surprise; I don’t think anyone had it on their radar! Avatar – Frontiers of Pandora was shown off during Ubisoft’s presentation, and was really the highlight of what was otherwise a dull hour populated by updates, expansions, and sequels. The game is due for release next year, which is also when the first of four sequels to 2009’s Avatar is scheduled to hit cinemas. It doesn’t seem like the first-person action game will be a direct adaptation of the film – at least, that’s the impression I got – but the timing can’t be coincidental!
Despite Avatar becoming the highest-grossing film of all time when it was released, more than a decade later it’s not unfair to say that it hasn’t made a huge impact in the cultural landscape, even within the sci-fi genre. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say Avatar has been largely eclipsed by titles released in the decade since, and is almost forgotten at this point. Commissioning what looks to be a big-budget video game of this kind is a bit of a risk under those circumstances, but it seems like it has potential – and the Avatar sequels may succeed at establishing the basis for an ongoing franchise of which this game could be a big part. We’ll have to wait and see! So we can add this one to the pile of games I’m tentatively excited about.
Number 3: Starfield
I was rather surprised to see so little of Starfield – even though its “in engine” trailer was well put-together, and it was certainly our biggest look so far at a game Bethesda chief executive Todd Howard described as both “a new universe” and something set in the future, I had expected to see more actual gameplay. Considering Starfield is still a year and a half away, perhaps the game just wasn’t ready for a more in-depth look.
What we saw was interesting, though. Starfield seems to be doing something superficially similar to television series like The Expanse in the way it handles its spacecraft – a combination of modern military, industrial, and astronaut aesthetics seemed present in the design and layout of the ship we saw in the trailer. I quite like that style, it arguably gives stories a semi-realistic feel when compared to the likes of Star Trek or Star Wars, which both rely on technobabble and fictional technologies. Spaceships in Starfield are said to be fuelled by helium-3 – a real-world substance that can be used for spacecraft fuel.
But, of course, this is the studio that brought us The Elder Scrolls and the modern Fallout games, so it won’t just be a realistic spaceflight simulator! It seems as though there will be exploration involved, as well as encountering alien races!
As I predicted, Starfield will be exclusive to Xbox and PC following Bethesda’s acquisition by Microsoft. This seemed patently obvious to me, but doubtless some PlayStation fans will still be disappointed.
Number 4: Elden Ring
Upcoming hack-and-slash title Elden Ring was one of the first games shown off this year, debuting on Thursday as part of the “Summer Games Fest” presentation. I stated in my preview of E3 that Elden Ring might not be the kind of game I’m interested in, personally speaking… and having seen more of it I can now say that with certainty!
If you’re looking forward to Elden Ring, that’s fantastic. I have no doubt that for fans of certain genres it will be a fun time – but as someone who doesn’t much care for the “extreme difficulty” hack-and-slash gameplay of other FromSoftware titles, this is one I’m going to skip. Nothing in the trailer – from its dark, bland colour palette to its monsters that looked like they’ve been copied and pasted straight from one of the Dark Souls games – appealed to me, and you could’ve told me this was Dark Souls 4 and I’d have believed it.
The involvement of author George R. R. Martin did admittedly pique my curiosity when the game was first announced, and I have no doubt his input will help craft a fantasy setting that is, at the very least, interesting. But that’s about the nicest thing I can say about Elden Ring. It might have an interesting setting with enjoyable lore. Everything else about it makes it look like a game I’ll happily skip.
Number 5: Sea of Thieves crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean
What?! What on Earth did I just see? This crossover between Rare’s multiplayer pirate game Sea of Thieves and Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean looks utterly bonkers, and was a total surprise. Multiplayer generally isn’t my thing, as you may know, so I haven’t played much of Sea of Thieves. But this crossover looks like a blast, and I’m sure fans of the game will have a lot of fun.
Sea of Thieves underwhelmed when it launched in 2018, with criticism for feeling rather barebones. But in the three years since launch, developers Rare have added a lot of new content, and the general consensus seems to be that the game is in a good place in 2021. This crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean will surely bring in a lot of new players, and it looks set to give Sea of Thieves a significant boost.
Number 6: The Outer Worlds 2
The Outer Worlds 2 wins the award for “funniest trailer!” Other than a very early tease at the fact that the game exists, we don’t know much at all about the sequel to Oblivion’s 2019 role-playing game. The Outer Worlds drew positive comparisons to the Fallout franchise; Oblivion having made Fallout: New Vegas a few years earlier. With Fallout 76 floundering, The Outer Worlds was talked up as a kind of spiritual successor. I think that description sells it short – The Outer Worlds is its own thing. And now a sequel is on the way which will hopefully be just as much fun and expand the world that the first game created.
As with a number of big, hyped-up titles this year, The Outer Worlds 2 isn’t coming any time soon. However, knowledge of its existence might be enough to tide fans over until its eventual release.
Number 7: Battlefield 2042
So many games nowadays are ditching their single-player campaigns to focus entirely on multiplayer, and Battlefield 2042 is the latest to do so. Sometimes it feels as though games companies are deliberately making shorter and less interesting campaigns, so that when fewer people play them they can say “see, no one wants a single-player mode! That’s why we didn’t make one!”
Battlefield 2042 was shown off with a very slick cinematic trailer, before showing off proper gameplay during Microsoft’s presentation a couple of days later. The gameplay looks… fine. If you like the Battlefield series, I daresay you’ll find this game familiar and enjoyable when it releases later in the year. Following on from 2006’s Battlefield 2142, as well as the likes of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and even Arma III, Battlefield 2042 is taking a near-future setting that will likely allow for a degree of creativity on the part of developers Dice.
In that regard I have to say I like the diversity of settings on offer from modern shooters. Long gone are the days when everything was either sci-fi or World War II, and after the most recent entries in the series looked at World War I and World War II it makes sense to change things up and give fans a different experience. This won’t be one I dive into, but it looks like a solid shooter for folks into that kind of thing.
Number 8: Age of Empires IV
We’ve known for a while that Age of Empires IV has been in the works, but E3 finally gave us a release date: the 28th of October. I’ve had a great time with the remastered Age of Empires games over the last few years, but the initial teaser for Age of Empires IV a few months ago left me distinctly underwhelmed. The game just looked incredibly outdated, and I was genuinely worried for its prospects.
The E3 trailer, however, looked a heck of a lot better. Though Age of Empires IV will be taking a different approach to past games, and will feature fewer factions at launch, it has potential, and I shall certainly give it a try when it arrives on Game Pass this autumn. The original Age of Empires and its Rise of Rome expansion were two of my most-played games of the late 1990s/early 2000s and cemented my love of the real-time strategy genre. After successful remakes of those classic games, it’ll be great to welcome the Age of Empires series to the modern day!
Number 9: Mario Party Superstars
The Nintendo Direct broadcast began with a far-too-long look at a single new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character that really dragged. After that weak start, however, there were a couple of interesting announcements. Mario Party Superstars is probably the one that seemed most exciting to me, as it will be bringing back boards and mini-games from the Mario Party games of the Nintendo 64 era. I have fond memories of playing the original Mario Party with friends on the N64, so this new game seems like it has the potential to be a wonderful blast of nostalgia.
There is already a Mario Party game on the Nintendo Switch, of course, and at first it seemed as though Superstars was simply going to be an expansion for that title. However, it’s a standalone game instead, and is going to be retailing for full price (£50 in the UK). That seems a bit steep to me, and it might end up putting people off. But the idea is interesting, and I’ll be curious to see how Mario Party Superstars does.
Number 10: Chivalry II
Chivalry II is already out – it launched last week. But E3 provided developers Torn Banner Studios another opportunity to plug the game, and they seized it! The game is a medieval combat multiplayer title, with players jumping into large-scale battles with dozens of others. There are a variety of different game modes, including sieges, pitched battles, and others, and despite the fact that I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, I have to say that the fast-paced hacking and slashing looks like fun!
In a multiplayer scene dominated by first-person shooters, Chivalry II is something different. Stepping back in time to the medieval era, and arming players with swords, shields, bows, and battle-axes instead of guns and rocket launchers really does feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s likely going to remain a fairly niche game by multiplayer standards, but that’s okay. It looks like fun, and maybe I’ll be convinced to check it out some time soon.
Number 11: Shredders
I like winter time and winter-themed titles – especially when it’s summer and there’s a heatwave going on! Shredders will be an Xbox/PC exclusive snowboarding game, and it’s due for release in time for Christmas. The game looked stunning, with great visuals and a snow effect that looked incredibly realistic. The trailer was very cinematic, though, so I’ll wait to see how good the finished product looks in comparison!
There have been some great snowboarding and winter sports games over the years, and I remember games like 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64 and SSX Tricky in the Xbox days with fondness. Shredders looks to be cut from the same cloth as those older titles, so perhaps it’ll be just as much fun when it’s released this winter.
Number 12: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild II
Regular readers may recall that I haven’t played Breath of the Wild – nor indeed any Zelda game. But fans have been clamouring for a sequel to the 2017 Switch launch title ever since it was released, and Nintendo has been hard at work on Breath of the Wild II (real title unknown!) for some time now. We finally got a look at the game at E3.
It looks like… Breath of the Wild. If you liked the first game, what we saw at E3 should be encouraging because it looks very much like more of the same. Link may have new abilities or new weapons, and of course there’ll be new monsters to fight and a new story. But in terms of visuals and the way the game seems to be played, there’s nothing earth-shattering or radically different from the last game.
Number 13: Redfall
I like Redfall’s visual style. The cartoon-inspired art style takes what could’ve been a horror title, featuring a vampire apocalypse, and turns it into something more fun and casual. Billing itself as a team or co-op shooter, Redfall stars a unique cast of characters tasked with fighting off vampires. It’s a game made by Arkane, the studio best-known for the Dishonored duology, as well as a personal favourite of mine from the Xbox era, Arx Fatalis.
Redfall looks to build on the studio’s work with the Dishonored games, but at the same time will take a different approach. It’s definitely one to watch, and I like the idea of using vampires in this way. Vampires in entertainment often follow the Dracula model: one or two very powerful enemies to outsmart and defeat. Television series The Strain stepped away from that and gave us a vampire apocalypse – and it looks like Redfall will try to do something similar in its own unique way.
Number 14: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania
Super Monkey Ball has always been a niche product, even by Nintendo’s cartoony standards! But there’s no denying that the original game was a lot of fun, and with the series hitting its 20th anniversary this year, Nintendo evidently felt that the time was right for a remaster. That’s what Banana Mania is, in case the trailer wasn’t clear – a remaster of the first three Super Monkey Ball games.
I don’t really have a lot more to say about this one. If you like Monkey Ball games, you’ll probably like Banana Mania when it launches on Switch.
Number 15: Bear & Breakfast
One of the few indie games to really shine at E3 this year was Bear & Breakfast. In short, you run a bed and breakfast (i.e. a small-scale hotel) in a forest. But you’re a bear. That’s the gimmick. The art style looks cute, the premise sounds like fun, and I liked the trailer that new developer Gummy Cat put together. I got kind of a Stardew Valley vibe from Bear & Breakfast, which is certainly no bad thing.
All I can really say is that I like this kind of management/tycoon game, and the uniqueness of the premise, combined with the neat visual style, makes Bear & Breakfast appealing to me. There’s currently no release date, but the developer hopes to have the game ready before the end of this year.
Number 16: Grounded
Grounded is currently out in early access (or a “game preview” as Microsoft calls it). For that reason I haven’t checked it out; early access games are hit-and-miss, with far more misses than hits in my experience. But developers Obsidian have been working hard on this Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-inspired title, and a new update to the game looks to add a lot more content.
Though I’m probably still going to wait until Grounded is ready for prime-time, I love the premise of being shrunk down and playing in the grass. There used to be a Disney World attraction based on the 1989 film in which you could walk through an area of the park where grass and everyday items were scaled-up to huge sizes. Grounded reminds me of that!
Number 17: Halo Infinite
We already knew Halo Infinite was in development, but after a disappointing trailer left fans upset last year, the game didn’t launch alongside the Xbox Series X in November. We got to see a little more of the game at E3, and Microsoft dropped the big news that the game’s multiplayer mode will be free-to-play. This is definitely an interesting development, but the only thing I could think was that most Xbox Series X players will already be interested in the Halo series… so I’m not sure that making the multiplayer free will see Halo Infinite pick up a lot more players! But free things are always nice.
The game has definitely been polished since last year’s controversy, and the graphics look decent. The Master Chief’s return after a long absence will definitely be attractive to fans of the series, and with a Halo television show also in production, it seems like the Halo brand is about to undergo a renaissance after a decade in which it arguably underperformed.
Though the Halo series has been a flagship for Xbox, the sheer number of other games on offer as Microsoft snaps up studios and pushes Game Pass hard makes it feel a little less relevant in 2021. Halo Infinite is shaping up to be a good game – but Xbox’s success is no longer as closely-tied to the series as it once was.
Number 18: Dying Light 2: Stay Human
Zombies have been overdone in the last few years, with so many open-world zombie horror games that the industry is more or less burned out on the concept. Dying Light 2, which fans of the original game have been anticipating since 2015, has a mountain to climb, then – but there are positive signs.
There will be no guns in Dying Light 2, with players having to make use of crafted melee weapons in the post-apocalyptic city they find themselves in. There will likewise be no vehicles – the in-universe explanation being that there is no fuel any more, since the zombie virus devastated the world. Both of those semi-realistic concepts feel like they add value to a genre that’s otherwise played out, and Dying Light 2, with its interesting parkour-based movement system carried over from the first game, may have found a niche that will bring players back.
Number 19: Rainbow Six Extraction
I enjoyed Rainbow Six in the early 2000s, and I had the first couple of games in the series on Dreamcast. Rainbow Six Siege was never my thing; a multiplayer live service just held no appeal. And though Extraction brings back characters from Siege, it does so in a very different way. With a focus on cooperative play as opposed to competitive, and with an interesting-sounding premise involving an alien parasite, Extraction has all the elements in place for a fun experience.
Some have criticised the decision to take the previously straight-laced action series in a different direction, but I think there’s a lot of potential in a series like Rainbow Six trying something new. Siege was something new itself when it launched in 2015; the series had previously been a story-centric game with a main campaign, not a multiplayer one. So let’s see what Extraction brings to the table when it launches in September.
Number 20: Slime Rancher 2
One of the most colourful and vibrant games shown off at E3, Slime Rancher 2 is the sequel to 2016’s Slime Rancher, a first-person farming/life simulator. Though we didn’t see much in the way of gameplay – nor even get any significant details – I assume at this stage that the game will take the same premise as the original title and build on it.
Expect to see more of the same, but with new varieties of slimes and perhaps some new crafting or character abilities as well. It looks like fun, and will be released in 2022.
Before we wrap things up I wanted to mention a few games that were notable by their absence at E3. Though there were plenty of titles we did get to see – the list above is nowhere near comprehensive – there were some titles I was hoping or expecting to hear news of that didn’t appear for one reason or another.
Anything from the Star Wars franchise:
There had been rumours earlier in the year of a Knights of the Old Republic sequel. There’s also Jedi: Fallen Order II (though that’s an EA game, and EA didn’t have a presentation at E3 this year) and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which has been delayed multiple times. With so much new content to come from Star Wars, and with the brand ditching its exclusive arrangement with EA, I’m sure there must be more video games in the works. I genuinely expected to hear something about at least one of them!
Grand Theft Auto 6:
Still radio-silence on this from Rockstar, despite Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive having a slot at this year’s E3. We don’t even know for certain that Grand Theft Auto 6 will be Rockstar’s next big game, and with the recent announcement of a port of Grand Theft Auto V to new consoles, it seems like they’re planning to continue to milk that 2013 title for as long as possible. Disappointing.
Mario Kart 9:
As soon as Nintendo said, in the first minute of their broadcast, that they would be focusing on games releasing this year I was sure we wouldn’t see Mario Kart 9! The series’ 30th anniversary is next year, and in my opinion 2022 remains the most likely release date for the next entry in the Mario Kart series. Despite that, however, before E3 I felt there was the potential for the game to be announced in order to begin to get fans hyped up.
So that’s it.
With Sony and PlayStation being absent, Microsoft and Xbox dominated proceedings. Nintendo showed off a collection of smaller games that will be of note to their existing fans, but their biggest releases – like Breath of the Wild II and the next Metroid Prime title – are still a long way off. There were plenty of interesting games, though – far more than I’ll ever be able to play!
E3 worked well in this stripped-down, audience-free format. I hope they decide to stick with it going forward, even when the pandemic settles and in-person events are okay again. I just found the whole thing much simpler and more enjoyable, with less of a focus on presenters and staging and more of a focus on the thing we all care about: games.
The games I found most interesting are listed above, but there were many more shown off as well. Practically all of the trailers are now online on YouTube and similar websites, so take a look. I’m sure there’s something for everyone!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of Xbox, IGDB and/or E3. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A few months ago I briefly touched on the Microsoft buyout of ZeniMax – parent company to Skyrim developer Bethesda. The deal, which was announced back in September last year, has finally gone through after months of behind-the-scenes legal wrangling, meaning that Microsoft now officially owns Bethesda Softworks, its subsidiaries, and all of the games they’ve developed and produced. This is a significant acquisition for Microsoft, and looks sure to shake up the games market – at least the single-player games market! It will also certainly provide a big boost for Xbox Game Pass, which has already been touting the arrival of Bethesda’s back catalogue to the service.
Almost all Bethesda titles for at least a decade have been multiplatform, with releases on Sony’s PlayStation consoles and some select releases on Nintendo hardware too, and those games aren’t going to be taken away. Microsoft has also pledged to honour existing contracts for upcoming titles, meaning that both Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will still have timed exclusivity on PlayStation 5. After that, however, we can expect to see future titles arrive exclusively on Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Some games industry commentators seem taken aback at this notion, asking with mouths agape if Microsoft will seriously make upcoming Bethesda projects like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI Xbox/PC exclusive. To those folks I ask a simple question: really? This seems like a surprise to you?
Microsoft paid $7.5 billion for Bethesda, and for that huge investment they’re going to want a lot more than a few new titles in the Game Pass library. Exclusive games sell systems, and in 2021 exclusive games drive subscriptions too. Microsoft fell way behind in the last generation as the Xbox One was massively outsold by the PlayStation 4, and a lack of decent exclusive games was a huge factor in explaining why that was the case. Microsoft has tried to rectify the situation by acquiring Obsidian Entertainment, Compulsion Games, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, and other studios, and guess what? Those studios now make games for PC and Xbox only. Some of these investments will take time to pay off, but as the new console generation rolls into its second and third years, I think we’ll see a big push from Microsoft with some of these new exclusive games.
Titles from Microsoft-owned franchises like Halo, Gears of War, State of Decay, and standalone games like Sea of Thieves aren’t going to be released on PlayStation (or Nintendo) so I’m afraid that people are getting their hopes up if they expect to see future Bethesda titles on any other platform. Microsoft wouldn’t have spent such a huge sum of money not to capitalise on their acquisition, and while in the immediate term nothing is going to change, give it a couple of years when Starfield is ready, The Elder Scrolls VI is preparing for launch, and Bethesda are working on new entries in the Fallout or Doom series and you can guarantee they will be Xbox/PC exclusive.
Sometimes I sit down to read through opinion and commentary by other games industry writers – including some pretty big names – and I’m surprised how they can get it so wrong. It seems naïve in the extreme to be banking on any future Bethesda title – including huge ones like The Elder Scrolls VI and a potential future Fallout title – to be anything other than exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms. That’s how these things work, and it’s why Microsoft was willing to get out their wallet in the first place.
Though it may seem “unfair” to lock games to a single platform (or pair of platforms, in this case) it’s how the industry has operated since day one. Nobody got upset about Marvel’s Spider-Man being a PlayStation 4 exclusive, even though that game wasn’t made by Sony, but rather one of their subsidiaries. It was just expected – Insomniac Games make PlayStation titles, just like 343 Industries make Xbox titles. Bethesda’s acquisition means they join Team Xbox. It may not be great fun for PlayStation gamers who had been looking forward to a future Bethesda title, but that’s the reality of the industry.
Be very careful if you hear an analyst or commentator saying that they believe Bethesda titles will still come to PlayStation. Rather than getting your hopes up or setting up false expectations, it may be better to plan ahead. If Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI are games you’re dead set on playing, consider investing in Xbox. The Xbox Series S is a relatively affordable machine at £249/$299, and if you only need it for a couple of exclusives that you can’t get elsewhere it could be a solid investment – certainly a lot cheaper than a gaming PC.
Despite all of this, I still feel Sony has the upper hand in the exclusives department, at least for now. It will be a couple of years or more before Microsoft can fully take advantage of their new acquisition, and other titles from developers like Obsidian – who are working on a game that looks superficially similar to The Elder Scrolls series – are also several years away. Sony, on the other hand, has games out now like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon’s Souls remake, as well as upcoming titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Returnal to draw players in. Microsoft is still pursuing a frankly bizarre policy of making all Xbox Series S/X games available on Xbox One for the next year or so, so for exclusive next-gen gaming in the short term, Sony is still the way to go.
I remember when Microsoft entered the home console market for the first time in 2001. A lot of commentators at the time were suggesting that Microsoft were buying their way in, that they would throw their wallet around and other companies would find it hard to compete. It never really happened, though, at least not to the extent some folks feared. The acquisition of Bethesda is a big deal, but Bethesda and all its subsidiaries have published only around 20 games in the whole of the last decade, so in terms of the wider gaming market, and considering how many games there will be on PC, Xbox Series S/X, and PlayStation 5 in the next few years, it’s a drop in the ocean.
That doesn’t mean it won’t sting for PlayStation fans who want to play Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI, though. Better start saving up for an Xbox!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Were you lucky enough to secure a pre-order of the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? If so, congratulations! You’re one of the few who managed that feat. Both consoles sold out as soon as pre-orders were available, meaning a lot of people hoping to pick up one of the new machines this year were left disappointed.
A lot of factors came together to make this happen, and we’ll look at them in turn. First is the confusing way in which both Sony and Microsoft made their consoles available. Pre-orders for the PlayStation 5 “accidentally” went live hours ahead of schedule, meaning a lot of people who had planned to pre-order at the promised time missed out. There is no one place where consoles may be pre-ordered either, with retailers from big outlets like Amazon and supermarkets down to smaller specialist games or electronics shops all offering to take customers’ money. As many found out later, problems with stock availability and allocation meant that a lot of pre-orders were either cancelled, rejected, or could not be fulfilled on launch day.
Then there are the “bots.” Automated computer programmes bought up a significant percentage of the available supply of new consoles, leaving many machines in the hands of touts and scalpers. These consoles are currently being re-sold for well over the asking price to disappointed gamers who missed out.
Finally there’s the question of how many machines were manufactured. When coronavirus hit China hard earlier this year, production of next-gen consoles was majorly disrupted. Some factories were closed for weeks, others cut back their output, and the consequence for both Sony and Microsoft was that far fewer next-gen consoles were available in time for launch than they expected. I noted this a few months ago when I asked the question: is now really the right time to launch these machines?
There was always going to be high demand for these machines, and both Sony and Microsoft knew that they’d sell out on launch day. In fact that’s usually part of the plan; selling out makes a machine look exciting and cool, and fear of missing out drives sales. No company wants to see images of huge numbers of unsold machines sitting on shelves in the period after launch.
But even in that environment, the reduced manufacturing capability has had a huge impact, make no mistake. The plan had been for millions more consoles to be available; Sony told us this directly when they announced a few months ago that they would have several million fewer consoles ready to go on launch day than they initially planned. When their business model was already based around artificial scarcity, the loss of several million units has made an already difficult pre-order process practically impossible when combined with the other factors listed above.
So on to the title of this article: how much does an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 really cost if you want to get one before the end of the year? I went to a popular auction website and compiled a short selection of listings. Take a look:
As you can see, prices are approaching double the recommended retail price here in the UK, with scalpers and touts even selling pre-ordered consoles that they don’t actually have in their possession yet. Anecdotally I’ve heard from friends in the United States of PlayStation 5 consoles being sold for upwards of $1200 – well over double the asking price.
In a way, this is “pure capitalism.” This is what happens when companies don’t have enough stock for consumers; the law of supply and demand kicks in. If someone is willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5, then there will be a market for that. The true price of these machines right now, in November 2020, is not the recommended retail price of £450. It’s £700, £800, or £900. And with no indication of the availability of either console improving before Christmas, those prices may yet rise further.
Companies are totally fine with this. It doesn’t matter in the slightest to Microsoft or Sony whether a genuine player buys a console or a bot picks up that console for a scalper or tout to re-sell later. They still make just as much money no matter who the buyer is, so they have absolutely no incentive to find ways to stamp out this behaviour. Likewise, retailers from game stores to supermarkets to giants like Amazon don’t care – and it’s through online retailers that the vast majority of pre-orders have been taken.
The market – that amorphous entity that economists love to talk about – determines the price and value of products. If people are willing to pay £900 for a PlayStation 5 then that’s its true value. But is it worth it? Could any video game console possibly be worth £900?
It will come as no surprise to you to learn that my answer is a resounding “no.” Not only are these machines not worth such a ridiculous amount of money, they’re probably not even worth their official price right now.
This new console generation is, at best, a minor improvement over the current one in most of the ways that matter. Add to that the fact that practically every game currently available for the PlayStation 5, and every single game currently available for the Xbox Series X, are also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, most players would find it hard to tell the difference between playing on a current-gen or next-gen machine. There are iterative changes, such as faster loading times, better controller battery life, and so on. But there’s nothing significant in terms of graphics or gameplay that make either console a “must-buy” in 2020. Any such improvements won’t be seen for a year or more; perhaps by 2022 you could make the case that games are getting better thanks to these machines. But not yet.
There was a lot of hype and buildup to the launch of these new consoles, as is to be expected. And a lot of players were sucked in by the hype and decided that they needed a new Xbox or PlayStation on launch day no matter what. If they paid over the odds for their machine from a scalper or tout, I bet a lot of them regret that investment today.
With the new consoles offering small improvements at best, there’s no need to get one right now. Don’t reward the scalpers and touts with their scripts and bots who bought up as many consoles as they could. Jump off the hype train and be patient, and enjoy the exact same games on current-gen hardware. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X and Series S – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.
The launch of the Xbox Series X earlier today marked the beginning of a new console generation – and thus the end of one too. That generation began in November 2012 with the release of the Wii U, and saw both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive a year later. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last eight years to have played a number of different games across all four major consoles, and while I need to say for the record that there are still plenty of big titles I haven’t got my hands on, there’s certainly enough to put together a list like this.
As we say goodbye to the current generation of consoles and jump headfirst into next-gen, let’s take a few minutes to look back at some of the best gaming experiences of the generation… in my subjective opinion!
But before we dive into the list, here’s a short recap of each of the major consoles. The Wii U came first, but was blighted by horrible marketing (even months after release, many gamers were confused as to what the Wii U even was, with many believing its clunky plastic controller to be nothing more than an accessory for the Wii). Nintendo began making losses during this period, and even laid off a number of staff. The console saw some very fun games, but I was one of less than fifteen million people who bought the machine – which in 2012 was clearly not good enough to cover Nintendo’s costs – making the console an expensive failure. For the sake of comparison, the original Wii sold over 100 million consoles, and the Switch is currently sitting at over 60 million a mere three years after release.
Next came the PlayStation 4. Only a few months earlier I’d bought a PlayStation 3, the first Sony machine I’d ever owned. I’d done so solely to play The Last Of Us, and I wasn’t disappointed! After the Xbox One suffered a rocky run-up to launch (we’ll come to that in a moment) PlayStation seized the chance to convert gamers to their platform after running behind for the entirety of the previous generation. And many folks who had previously been invested in Xbox made the switch – PlayStation 4 has almost certainly sold twice as many units as Xbox One, and that couldn’t have happened without Xbox 360 players jumping ship. PlayStation 4 has also had by far the better crop of exclusive games, and that’s another huge factor in its success this generation.
Xbox One arrived only a week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, but it was not a smooth road for Microsoft’s console. From the moment the console was announced it attracted the ire of gamers. First was its complicated always-online nature, which Microsoft had to backtrack on. Next was the issue of trading in games or sharing them with friends, with Xbox initially seeming to “lock” each disc to a specific user account. This was also something Microsoft U-turned on. Those fiascos were bad enough, but next came Kinect. Bundled with the system – and with no way to opt out – Kinect bumped up the price of the Xbox One at launch, making it $100 more than PlayStation 4. Looking back over several console generations, the cheaper machine usually sells better, and so it proved again. Xbox One also struggled with a lack of decent exclusive games to compete with those available on the PlayStation 4. Despite all of that, however, Xbox Game Pass (a paid subscription service which gives players access to over a hundred titles) definitely found a foothold as the generation drew to a close.
Finally, 2017 saw the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U had been Nintendo’s attempt to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market, the Switch saw Nintendo realise that its success with consoles like the Wii and the handheld DS and 3DS lineup was due to their appeal to casual players. A console deliberately less powerful than its two competitors, the Switch retained the motion controls that had proven popular on the Wii alongside a new gimmick: the console is a hybrid that can either be played as a handheld device or connected to a screen. After the disappointment of the Wii U, the Switch proved a success from day one, and eclipsed the Wii U’s total lifetime sales in a matter of months.
So those were this generation’s consoles. Now let’s look at some games!
This list is in three parts. The first part consists of titles that I consider to be incredibly important to the overall gaming landscape of the generation, even if they weren’t “my thing” and/or I don’t have much personal experience with them. The second part of the list contains a handful of titles that failed hard, and whose failures had an impact on gaming in some way. And finally the third part of the list is what you’re all here for – my personal top ten games of the generation.
Without any further ado, let’s get started!
As stated above, this section of the list consists of a few titles that, for whatever reason, weren’t necessarily something I enjoyed or bought into, yet were landmarks in gaming this generation. No “games of the generation” list would be complete without their inclusion.
Number 1: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – or “Pub-G” as some insist on calling it – was the first truly successful battle royale game. There’s debate over the origins of battle royale, and at one point PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds attempted to patent the format, but there can be no denying that this is the game that brought it to mainstream attention. By doing so it revolutionised online multiplayer gaming, and for a while was the most-played game in the world.
Considering how big battle royale titles still are, no end-of-the-generation list would be complete without PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though the game is still being played, it has arguably been eclipsed by some other titles in the genre it spawned – most notably Fortnite. In that sense it’s one of the most influential games of the generation… even if it isn’t one that’s enjoyed as much ongoing success.
Number 2: Fortnite (2018)
If PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds kicked off the battle royale craze, Fortnite took it to the next level. This title became a powerhouse in the gaming world; a phenomenon the industry hadn’t seen since Minecraft. And it’s a free-to-play game. Many of Fortnite’s biggest fans have never paid a penny despite spending hours and hours playing it, yet it’s managed to become one of the biggest and most financially successful titles in gaming. Ever.
Fortnite isn’t innovative with its gameplay, nor is it innovative in being free; mobile games in particular have used a free-to-play model for years. But Fortnite has taken the world by storm by refining those things and putting them with a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has widespread appeal, especially to younger players. For many kids, Fortnite has been their ticket into a brand-new hobby, and the importance of expanding gaming beyond where it was even a few years ago is immeasurable.
As with any successful title, other games have tried to imitate Fortnite’s success, and in some ways we can assign some degree of blame to Fortnite for making lootboxes and microtransactions more acceptable. However, it isn’t only this game’s fault that companies continue to pursue in-game monetisation!
Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)
With so much focus on multiplayer this generation, The Witcher 3 really stands out as a comparative rarity. It demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that there is a market for well-made, expansive single-player games at a time when many companies seemed to be abandoning them. It’s widely considered one of the best games of all-time, not just of the generation, and the success of The Witcher 3 did much to demonstrate to the industry that single-player games could still be critically and financially successful.
As I mentioned when I took a look at a few great games that I haven’t played, The Witcher 3 is on my list and I hope to eventually get to it. Single-player fantasy role-playing games are exactly my kind of thing, but I haven’t got around to this one yet! As a standout title that really boosted the medium, though, I can appreciate The Witcher 3′s success from afar.
Number 4: Grand Theft Auto V – online mode (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this generation, having initially been released on the previous generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the last seven years it has seldom dropped out of the top ten bestselling games, which is an incredible achievement. The success is largely due to its online mode, which has made developers Rockstar an insane amount of money.
Competitive online gaming really isn’t my thing, but no list appreciating the generation’s finest should ignore Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode. Taking the beautifully-crafted world of Los Santos and opening it up to players for jobs and heists together has been a masterstroke on Rockstar’s part.
I was, however, a little disappointed to see that Rockstar simply plan on porting the game to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I get that it’s been a phenomenally successful title this generation – but I had hoped for a new entry in the series (or a new title altogether) as the gaming world moves on. They see things differently, however, and given Grand Theft Auto V’s success and bustling online scene, maybe they’re right.
Number 5: Undertale (2015) and the whole indie scene
I chose Undertale as an example because it has been widely praised, but this entry also stands to represent titles like Dead Cells, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Shovel Knight, and many more indie titles that have wowed audiences this generation. Making a game as an independent developer is a difficult and often expensive undertaking, yet many of these titles – including Undertale – have been fantastic and received critical acclaim.
There’s a perception that all indie games are pixel-art 2D platformers, and while there certainly are titles which fit that description there’s also much more going on in the indie scene. Some of these games go on to inspire whole sub-genres, and as we go into the new generation its a great thing that there are so many independent, smaller developers out there. It keeps the games scene interesting!
Disappointments and Disasters
This section looks at a handful of controversial, disappointing, or outright bad games which nevertheless impacted the games industry this generation. Not every innovation or change to the way games are made comes from success, and some titles may be better-remembered for serving as bad examples than good games.
Number 1: Star Citizen (Unreleased)
How can a game that hasn’t even been released be one of the biggest disasters of the generation? Simple: it’s become the textbook example of how crowdfunding can go wrong in the gaming realm. StarCitizen’s troubled development began way back in 2012, before any of the current-gen systems launched. And it raked in millions of dollars in crowdfunding from eager gamers – only to miss release window after release window, while continuing to beg and scrounge money out of its remaining loyal fans.
At this point, in late 2020, the team behind Star Citizen have raised – and mostly spent – over $300 million. That’s an utterly insane amount of money for any video game, and if reports and rumours are to be believed, it’s still nowhere near complete. What happened with Star Citizen is basically this: a developer had a decent idea for a game, put together a small team, and began work. But as the crowdfunding campaign took off the developers began to promise more and more features, leading to more development time. More development time in turn meant they needed more money, which meant more crowdfunding, which meant more features were promised, and the whole thing has spiralled out of control to the point where the game is an overhyped undeliverable mess.
Star Citizen isn’t a “scam,” because I firmly believe there were good intentions behind it. But the developers needed someone competent to manage the project before it got unwieldy, and someone in charge to prevent it from ever getting so out of control. The idea of selling in-game content for an unreleased game is already pretty shady, but when some of that content can cost thousands of dollars I think someone has to step in and say that it isn’t acceptable. It’s still possible the game will see a release – one day – but even if it does it’s hard to imagine it will be anything less than underwhelming in the extreme for fans who’ve waited years and hyped it to oblivion.
Number 2: Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
Battlefront II saw the bubbling lootbox controversy boil over. Though it’s been over three years since its 2017 launch, the ramifications of that are still being felt as jurisdictions across the world move to regulate or ban in-game gambling. Electronic Arts has, for years, pushed the envelope for what gamers will tolerate in terms of in-game monetisation. And with Battlefront II they finally pushed too hard and too far.
The game itself is perfectly playable today, but only because EA ripped out as much of the gambling as they could before it hit shelves. Battlefront II also had poor timing, causing controversy in the Star Wars fandom at a time when The Last Jedi was already proving hugely divisive. The combination of the poorly-received game and film meant that Star Wars was in a dark place going into 2018.
Number 3: Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem (2019)
Oh, Bioware. How heroes fall! For a number of reasons that boil down to project mismanagement, both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were rush jobs, put together in months instead of years. And it showed. Andromeda was memed to death, and even though the worst of its bugs and visual glitches were fixed within days of launch by patches, the damage was done and the game’s reputation never recovered.
Anthem overpromised based on a trailer at E3 that was entirely fake. Players who did buy into the game found a half-finished and underwhelming live service experience, and promises of updates and more content weren’t enough to convince more than a few to stick around. As of late 2020, Anthem’s “roadmap” for further updates has been cancelled, and the game is essentially dead.
For a studio like Bioware, these failures feel so much worse because we know that they’re capable of producing some incredible games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and the first two parts of the Mass Effect trilogy are among my favourite role-playing games of all time, so to see the buggy overblown side-mission that was Andromeda and the live service failure that was Anthem is nothing less than a colossal disappointment. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for this once-great developer, however, with a Mass Effect trilogy remaster having been announced a couple of days ago.
Number 4: Fallout 76 (2018)
As above, a developer once revered for its amazing experiences churned out a buggy, underwhelming online multiplayer title. Fallout 76 came after years of declining quality of Bethesda’s own titles, which included port after port of Skyrim and little else. I could never get past the fact that this was a Fallout game with absolutely no non-player characters. The heart of any game like this is its story, and a story needs characters. Fallout 76 thus contained little more than a moderately pretty environment – one built on an ageing engine meaning even the game’s visuals were hardly spectacular.
After walking around, checking out the scenery, and battling a few monsters, there was literally nothing to do. The gunplay was also mediocre to poor, something the Fallout series’ VATS system had masked in previous titles built on the same engine. But with multiplayer there was no way to implement VATS properly, meaning the game’s shooting had to stand on its own… and it fell down.
The first of these points – the missing NPCs – was eventually addressed in an update. But Fallout 76 has been own goal after own goal from Bethesda, including crappy product tie-ins that got recalled, a $100 premium membership, and more besides. The game was a bug-riddled disappointment.
Number 5: Shenmue III (2019)
Shenmue III is one of the biggest disappointments to me personally. Other titles in this section have their problems, but when it comes to my most-anticipated games ever, Shenmue III had been at the top of the list since 2001. After a dedicated group of hardcore fans raised an incredible $7 million through a crowdfunding campaign, the only thing I expected from Shenmue III was that it would finally finish Ryo Hazuki’s story.
In 2001, Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger, with Ryo’s quest for revenge incomplete – and having just taken an interesting turn. But the failure of the Dreamcast – and the game’s lacklustre sales – meant no sequel was forthcoming. Yu Suzuki, the game’s creator, had always said that the Shenmue saga was an ambitious project, and that’s to be commended, but while I can’t claim to speak for every Shenmue fan, really my only expectation going into Shenmue III was that it would bring the story to a conclusion. If there was too much story to tell in a project this size, then someone had to come in and make cuts to all of the unnecessary fluff to make it fit. For some inexplicable reason, that didn’t happen. Fans raised millions of dollars to end on another cliffhanger. Does Yu Suzuki seriously think he’ll raise millions more to make Shenmue IV and Shenmue V to keep telling this story?
And that’s why it’s such a disappointment. It had one objective as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Fans donated their own money to make that dream a reality, but the developers blew it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dead, failed series to come back to life and finish its ambitious story. I can’t get over the truly awful decision-making that meant it didn’t happen.
Games of the Generation
Now we come to my personal top ten. I played and loved all of these games this generation, and while there are many more that could have made the list, when I whittled it down these are the titles which made the final cut. These titles are not in any particular order, so this isn’t a ranked list. All ten titles are very different, and thus they’re all my Games of the Generation!
Number 1: Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Originally released for the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 has since reappeared – in “deluxe” form – on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t particularly ground-breaking, simply refining and polishing the Mario Kart experience for the high-definition screens that became commonplace over the last decade. But that’s absolutely fine, because Mario Kart doesn’t need a radical overhaul; what keeps players coming back for race after race is that it’s pick-up-and-play fun.
The Switch version bundles the original game with its two DLC packs and adds a few new characters to the roster too. And that’s the way most players have experienced Mario Kart 8, since so few people owned a Wii U! It’s a shame that Nintendo chose to paywall its originally-free online multiplayer, and that decision deserves criticism as it’s awful to implement paid online features to a game that once enjoyed those same features for free.
Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun. Some will argue that the fun is best shared with friends, and though you could certainly make that claim I still find myself picking up the game for a quick race or two against the AI.
Number 2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
I played through Jedi: Fallen Order earlier this year, and I had a wonderful time. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the game the best Star Wars experience I’ve had in a long time, far surpassing some recent film and television attempts from that franchise! Cal’s journey from the shipbreaking yards of Bracca to, well, spoilers, was truly exciting.
This kind of linear, story-focused game has fallen out of favour with many of the bigger games publishers this generation. The rush to make every game an online experience (with recurring monetisation) has unfortunately seen less of a focus on titles like Jedi: Fallen Order; the Star Wars brand saw only the two Battlefront games in the years before its release. However, the success of this title both critically and commercially has already led to a sequel being developed – and hopefully demonstrated once again that there’s life in these kind of games!
Though I did encounter a few bugs and other issues during my playthrough nothing spoilt the experience. There were some great voice acting performances, interesting and varied planets to visit, a couple of neat cameos by characters from the films, and truly beautiful visuals that really brought the setting to life and truly immersed me in a galaxy far, far away.
Number 3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of South Park. Its social commentary can be biting and funny, but sometimes it goes over-the-top to say the least! However, while I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series since I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, the game South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to catch my attention early in the generation. I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did!
The game’s visual style is practically identical to the television series, and that alone makes it interesting. Animated shows have been adapted as games many times, but rarely is the appearance so remarkably similar. I think that’s what first captured my attention, but what I found when I played the game for myself was a surprisingly fun role-playing experience.
Not every joke landed, and a few moments in The Stick of Truth were just plain silly. But as an authentic South Park experience that really feels like playing through an extended episode of the television series it’s something unique – or it was until a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was released in 2017.
Number 4: Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)
Ori and the Blind Forest never pretends to be a AAA blockbuster. It’s relatively short, with an average playthough lasting around eight hours, but those hours are spent in a beautiful, artistic world. The levels are diverse, and are interesting and challenging in equal measure as protagonists Ori and Sein bid to save their forest home.
Words like “masterpiece” and “beautiful” are thrown around all too easily these days, but I genuinely feel that both apply to Ori and the Blind Forest. For a game about spirits and sprites it’s surprisingly emotional too.
In a generation where Microsoft and Xbox lagged well behind Sony in terms of the quality of their exclusive games, Ori and the Blind Forest was a rare win. It’s since been followed up by Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a sequel which builds on everything the first game got right. Both titles are available on Xbox Game Pass, and are well worth a play for anyone who likes 2D platformers.
Number 5: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)
As with Jedi: Fallen Order above, Uncharted 4 is a linear, story-focused game. This generation has been dominated by sequels, and Uncharted 4 brings to a close the tale of Nathan Drake which began on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. What I love about the series is that it feels like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, setting up a mythical-historical mystery for Drake and his comrades to uncover.
The first three games in the series were fantastic, but Uncharted 4 was a step up. Truly stunning visuals that pushed the PlayStation 4 to its limit really helped with immersion, and the swashbuckling story was perfectly-paced and well executed. Naughty Dog is a fine studio, and they refined this style of gameplay to perfection by the time of Uncharted 4‘s release.
The PlayStation 4 has had some amazing exclusive games this generation. Whether Uncharted 4 is the best of them will always be a matter of debate, but for me it has to be at or near the top of any such list.
Number 6: Minecraft (2011)
This one is a total cheat since Minecraft was released a full two years before any of the current-gen consoles. But it isn’t unfair to say that the game has enjoyed continued success this generation, which culminated in parent company Mojang being acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money for a game I initially dismissed as a scruffy-looking pixel graphics mud hut-builder!
Minecraft became the best-selling game of all-time, and a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It introduced the gaming hobby to millions of new players, including many children, and its ubiquity on practically every platform helped that immeasurably. Even nine years after its initial release the game is still being played and replayed over and over. The Minecraft brand has also been expanded upon, with titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft Dungeons set in the same fictional world.
Where I had the most fun with Minecraft is in multiplayer with friends, starting from scratch and building whatever we wanted. I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours were lost digging tunnels, mining resources, and planning how to build a castle with a lava moat or a city in the sky.
Number 7: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
The world of Middle-Earth has been ripe for video game adaptations ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas in the early 2000s, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor follows some truly outstanding games from years past. It took a step back from the books’ familiar characters, introducing players to Talion, an Aragorn-esque Ranger, as he takes the fight to Sauron.
What made Shadow of Mordor stand out mechanically as a video game was its revolutionary “nemesis” system. The game’s AI would track which Uruk commanders that Talion battled – and there were many! Those Uruk could not only become more powerful by killing the player, but defeating them was a key part of the gameplay experience. Orcs and Uruk could be promoted within Sauron’s army, and the aim of the game was to encounter and defeat them. Even now this gameplay mechanic is innovative, and it makes Shadow of Mordor a game with plenty of replay value.
Unfortunately the series was tainted somewhat by the in-game monetisation forced into its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. While most of that has since been removed, the reputation of both games suffered. It’s a shame, because Shadow of Mordor is one of the best and most immersive experiences set in Tolkien’s world, and is still worth playing today.
Number 8: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey took everything that had been great about 3D Mario games and condensed it into one phenomenal title. It dropped gimmicks from Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy and returned the series to a style much closer to the beloved Super Mario 64, which remains to this day one of my favourite games of all-time.
The level design was brilliant and incredibly varied, with water levels, desert levels, and even a voyage to the moon all on Mario’s agenda as he races to – once again – save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Hardly an innovative premise, you may say, but the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is in the gameplay rather than the story. There are very, very few titles about which I’d say something like that – so that should show you just how outstanding this game really is.
Despite being brand-new, Super Mario Odyssey gave me a hit of nostalgia and took me back to the mid-1990s when I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. It really does feel like an updated version of that classic game.
Number 9: Fall Guys (2020)
Fall Guys came out of nowhere this summer and surprised me! From the moment I heard the concept – jelly bean-like characters running obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout – I knew I had to give it a try. And despite my general dislike of online multiplayer titles, what I found was a truly fun experience.
Fall Guys makes it easy to jump into game after game, and because each round is so short, even losing doesn’t feel that bad. The different ways in which people play makes every round unique, and while it certainly has its frustrating moments the core gameplay is plenty of fun. A cheating problem plagued the PC version for a while, but an update brought in anti-cheat software and that issue has now all but died out, restoring the fun!
If you’d asked me at the start of the year – or even in June – what my top ten games of the generation were likely to be, Fall Guys wouldn’t have even been on my radar. And when I was putting this list together I was wondering if including it would seem like recency bias; ignoring older games in favour of one I picked up just a few weeks ago. But looking at it on merit, I had a lot of fun with Fall Guys, and I’m happy to include this fun, casual title as one of my top games of this generation.
Number 10: Subnautica (2018)
In the wake of Minecraft’s success many games attempted to recreate its survival and building/crafting features. Many of these so-called “Minecraft clones” were crap, but one survival game that took the genre to wholly new places was Subnautica. The game has an interesting story as players find themselves crash-landing on a watery planet and must explore, collect resources, and build their way to freedom.
Subnautica is one of the few games even in modern times to really get its underwater world feeling right. Many games are notorious for bad underwater sections or levels, and when the whole game is based around swimming and moving underwater, this was something Subnautica couldn’t afford to screw up! The skill and attention to detail that went into this aspect of the game really is incredible.
The underwater setting also made the game feel like something genuinely different in a survival genre that was full of samey titles. Subnautica managed to be something unique as well as plenty of fun, and that combination is greatly appreciated.
So that’s it. A few of the best games of the generation – in my opinion, at least. There are many, many titles that could have made this list, including games I’ve played but forgotten all about, and games that I didn’t get around to yet.
This generation has offered up some truly amazing experiences, and even as we begin the transition to new consoles, there will be more to come. Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite are both due in the next few months, and there will be a number of other titles released before production fully shifts to the new machines over the next couple of years.
On a personal note, this has been a generation where, for a number of reasons, I found myself playing fewer games than I had in the past. A combination of health, ageing, work, and other factors are to blame – if indeed blame needs to be assigned. Despite that, I had fun with all four of this generation’s major home consoles, something I can say for the first time as a generation comes to a close!
I have no immediate plans to purchase an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, so there won’t be new console reviews coming on the website any time soon. But I can save you the trouble: both machines will be iterative improvements on their predecessors, offering things like faster load times, better controller battery life, and so on. It will be several years before we see any significant improvement in game design or graphics, simply because most upcoming titles are cross-generation and will continue to be limited by the requirements of this generation’s hardware.
Hopefully this has been a fun and interesting look back at some of the highs (and lows) of this generation on the day we mark the official beginning of the next one.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, developers, and/or publishers. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’m a couple of days late on this one, but if you didn’t know already, Microsoft surprised and upended the games industry by announcing a deal to buy ZeniMax Media. ZeniMax is the owner of Bethesda – the company behind such titles as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 76. The deal also includes id Software, developers of Doom and Doom Eternal, as well as several other associated companies, including the developers of The Evil Within, The Elder Scrolls Online, and the Wolfenstein series. Wow.
I’ve seen a lot of… interesting commentary to have come out of this acquisition, including people who seem to think this means there can be no more console-exclusive titles ever, and some overly-optimistic PlayStation fans still expecting their favourite Bethesda/ZeniMax titles to come out on that platform. A lot of the details of the deal and its fallout (pun intended) are still under wraps, but I think we can make some reasonable assumptions – and cut through some of the nonsense.
First off, let’s clear something up. Microsoft wouldn’t spend $7.5 billion on this company and its subsidiaries for no reason. There are unquestionably going to be changes as a result of this deal. There are several ways it could manifest, but if we look to recent history we can pick out a couple of examples. The Outer Worlds was late into its development when Microsoft purchased developer Obsidian. With the game already scheduled for release on PlayStation, Microsoft honoured that commitment and didn’t make any changes. Likewise when they bought Mojang, Minecraft didn’t become an Xbox/PC exclusive. Those games were either already released or releasing imminently, likely with deals and agreements already signed, so Microsoft kept to those agreements.
The titles people seem most concerned about are The Elder Scrolls VI, which was announced a couple of years ago but is still several years away, and the next game in the Fallout series. No announcement has been made of a new Fallout title, but the assumption is that there may be one in pre-production. As someone who worked in the games industry for a time, I really feel that no company in Microsoft’s position spends this much money not to have exclusive titles. Unless this is part of some longer-term strategy to force Sony to bring their exclusive titles to Microsoft’s Xbox and PC platforms – which it almost certainly isn’t – we can say goodbye to the idea of any upcoming games being multiplatform. Despite Microsoft’s statements that they don’t care what platform someone plays on, they obviously do or they wouldn’t be investing so heavily in the Xbox brand and in PC gaming.
The Elder Scrolls VI is far enough in the future that I’d argue it won’t affect the purchasing decisions of 99% of gamers in 2020/21. Even hardcore Elder Scrolls fans should feel confident buying a PlayStation 5 if they want to this Christmas, because the next game in the series is years away and there will be time to get a cheaper Xbox Series S later if necessary. But thinking strategically and thinking long-term, the reality is that if players want to guarantee access to upcoming titles in any of these franchises, they’ll need to look at Xbox. That could be in the form of a console or it could mean getting a PC capable of running newer games. Either way, right now there’s no guarantee any of these titles will come to PlayStation – and if I were advising Microsoft, I’d say they’re in a rock solid position to demand compromises from Sony if Sony want to make any of those games and franchises available on their new system.
As we gear up for the launch of the two new systems, it’s hard to see that many people who had been planning to get a PlayStation will be swayed by this move – at least not in the short-term. All titles which have already been released – including the likes of Doom Eternal, Fallout 4, etc. – will still be available on Sony’s systems. On PlayStation 5 specifically, upgraded and/or re-released versions of some games are coming, and backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 will mean all current-gen titles will run on the new system. Also the upcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop, which have already been announced for PlayStation 5, seem certain to keep their console releases. So anyone looking ahead to the next year or two need not be too concerned. It’s the longer-term prospects that may worry some PlayStation gamers.
With this acquisition, Microsoft will be bringing all of Bethesda’s titles – including upcoming releases – to their Game Pass service. I wrote recently that Game Pass is already a pretty great deal, not to mention the cheapest way to get into current- and next-gen gaming. Add Bethesda’s titles into the mix and the value of the service goes up even more.
This is the real genius of the move. Exclusivity will certainly pull in some players, as those unwilling to miss out will have no choice but to buy into the Xbox ecosystem in some form. But Game Pass is Microsoft’s killer app right now; a subscription service offering players hundreds of games for a monthly fee instead of shelling out $70/£65 per title is not only in line with the way people consume other forms of entertainment (like music and television) but also feels like a good value proposition as we enter what could be a long-term spell of economic uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Game Pass is already available on Xbox and PC, and has been steadily growing its subscriber base. It doesn’t have the library that a service like Steam has, but I can absolutely foresee a time in the future – the near future – where Game Pass will be the platform of choice for many players, perhaps with Steam as a backup to buy occasional titles that aren’t available elsewhere. And once someone has signed up for Game Pass, Xbox Live, and started racking up achievements and making friends, they’re hooked into the ecosystem. It isn’t impossible to switch or leave, of course, but Microsoft will make staying as appealing as possible.
As far back as 2000/01 when Microsoft decided to jump head-first into the home console market, commentators were wondering when they’d start throwing their wallet around. A company with the resources of Microsoft is in a unique position to spend, and we’ve seen them do so several times. On the whole, for players mostly interested in single-player titles I can understand why this feels huge. It is. But at the same time, the deal to buy Mojang a few years back was probably more significant!
In summary, this is good news for PC and Xbox players, and anyone who’s a Game Pass subscriber or on the fence about the service. PlayStation players shouldn’t notice any major short-term ramifications, but if you desperately want to play an upcoming game like the sequel to Doom Eternal, Starfield, or The Elder Scrolls VI, I think you’re going to need a PC or an Xbox.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A lot of things in the world are a mess right now, upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life we’ve seen lockdowns, job losses, and economic chaos on a level unseen for a long time. And tech companies – including Sony and Microsoft – have suffered as a result of major disruption to supply chains and manufacturing facilities. Yet despite all that, both companies are pressing ahead with their new video game consoles, scheduled for release in November. But is that the right decision? Or might it have been better to wait a year or two?
One of the things that struck me most when looking at all the gameplay and footage released by both companies is how absolutely minuscule the so-called “upgrades” are, at least in terms of the way games will look on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Both companies use graphics as one of their major selling points, yet when you stack up a current-gen and next-gen version of the same title side by side, it’s hard to really see a difference.
Perhaps some consumers who have an incredibly fancy (and incredibly expensive) television – or superhuman eyesight – will notice a big change. But I didn’t, and from what I can tell by reading and listening to the reaction from players, a lot of other folks can’t either. There is more to a good game than graphics, but when it’s a key selling point I think it’s not unfair to say that players expect something more than either new console is able to offer.
The trouble is that even on the oldest version of current-gen systems – those consoles released in 2013 – games look pretty good. Players have been enjoying the visual style of titles like The Witcher 3 for years, and even some launch titles from 2013, like Ryse: Son of Rome, look fantastic. Any upgrade was always going to be minor, and things like slightly more realistic controller rumble or faster loading times are difficult things to market to the average player. The result? It’s hard to escape the feeling that the two new consoles already feel like a minor upgrade at best… and a waste of time and money at worst.
That’s before we account for the fact that disruption across all areas of the industry has massively complicated matters.
The Xbox Series X is going to be released without its key launch title – Halo Infinite. This game should have been one of the console’s selling points – despite its simultaneous launch on Xbox One. Without it, the Xbox Series X will be released with some cross-platform games and not a lot else.
However, things are even worse for Sony. The company recently announced that they were producing several million fewer PlayStation 5 consoles than expected. As a result there has been pre-order chaos. Initial plans to hold a “lottery” to determine who could pre-order a machine didn’t pan out, and the console sold out within minutes of being made available. Reportedly, some shops have either cancelled pre-orders outright, or informed irate gamers that they may not receive their console on launch day despite thinking they’d secured a pre-order.
We’ve seen consoles launch without sufficient stock numerous times. Here in the UK, getting a Nintendo Wii was nigh-on impossible in 2006 and throughout most of 2007, such was the lack of stock. Even with that in mind, though, this feels worse. Reducing the number of units available worldwide is clearly indicative of a company struggling with production, yet rather than delay or take steps to rectify the situation, Sony has been quite happy to make the PlayStation 5 impossible to get hold of – something which will only be to the benefit of shady resellers who’ll happily sell the console for double its asking price in the run-up to Christmas.
All of this comes at a time when many people are in financial difficulty or face an uncertain financial future. As the pandemic drags on and the idea of “getting back to normal” seems further away than ever, companies are closing left and right, and as temporary schemes like the furloughing of employees come to an end, many people will be out of work. A £450/$500 outlay in that environment is an impossible ask, and feels decidedly anti-consumer. This is made worse by price rises of games themselves, many of which look set to retail for £65/$70 when the new generation arrives.
As we approach what could be a bleak and lonely Christmas for many people, players and parents are looking at these companies and asking themselves how they could possibly have the audacity and lack of awareness to go ahead with something like this. The minor upgrade that most people perceive is incredibly overpriced at £450, and even the Xbox Series S with its lower price will still be out of reach of many in 2020.
I look at these consoles, and the footage the companies selling them have released, and I’m asking myself who would be interested? At least Microsoft can say that their policy of releasing games on Xbox One for the next couple of years – bizarre though that is in many ways – means that players can stick with their current systems and don’t need to shell out a ton of money for this minor upgrade. But Sony still plans on having exclusive games, and are in effect gating off those titles behind a very expensive paywall, one which will prove insurmountable for many players in 2020.
“Big companies do something anti-consumer” is not a surprising headline, either in the games industry or beyond. And as someone who worked for a large games company in the past, I understand that there are many factors at play, including research, development, and manufacturing contracts that were almost certainly too far along to be undone at the time the pandemic hit. Even so, I’m struggling to see how releasing these machines now is a good idea. A one year delay would allow both companies to resolve manufacturing issues, produce far more stock, and allow more development time for launch titles in order to overcome pandemic-created problems. We might even see marginally better graphics as a result. And a delay of a single year wouldn’t mean the internal components of either machine would feel out of date – they would still be cutting-edge devices even if they weren’t launched until November 2021.
Regardless of what some of us may think, the console launches are going ahead. Manufacturing is well underway, and with mere weeks to go until launch day it would be very difficult – if not outright impossible – to slam the brakes on at this late stage. Despite my misgivings both machines will still sell, and will be picked up by enthusiasts with enough disposable income. The beginning of a new console generation always leaves behind those who can’t afford to make the switch; this time around there’s just more people in that position. Hopefully things really will get back to normal soon so everyone can enjoy the next generation of consoles… and the minor changes they have to offer.
The Xbox brand – including the Xbox Series X – is the copyright of Microsoft. The PlayStation brand – including the PlayStation 5 – is the copyright of Sony. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be released in November 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Whenever a new console generation kicks off, it’s inevitable that there will be some games that are released on both new and old systems. This is perfectly understandable in many cases, as games which are new and have had a lot of time and effort put into their development want to get the widest audience possible. Many titles in this category go unnoticed, or at most some reviewers will point out that the game may not be fully-optimised for new hardware. But some other titles are the subject of pretty heavy criticism, and I can fully understand why.
When it was announced that Grand Theft Auto V would be ported to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, many fans were upset. This was a game initially developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it’s going to be ported again?Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this console generation after getting its start in 2013, but after more than seven years fans are itching for a new entry in the series.
In 2014, when Grand Theft Auto V was re-released on current-gen consoles, it was barely a year old. No one at the time begrudged Rockstar the chance to port the title to new hardware because there was an understanding that the game had been a big undertaking. As the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era drew to a close, it made sense to bring some new titles to the new systems.
But that was six years ago, and in that time Rockstar has developed and published precisely one new game – Red Dead Redemption II. There are arguments to be heard that the pace of game development as a whole has slowed, and I don’t want to ignore the reality that developing an open-world game on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is a colossal undertaking. But that doesn’t excuse what seems to many fans to be the company taking shortcuts.
What’s worse is that the time and effort spent on creating a next-gen port could arguably be better spent creating a new title. Even in a studio with the financial resources of Rockstar, porting existing games does take time, resources, and personnel away from other projects. So it’s not just a case of corner-cutting – fans feel that the company is wasting time.
Practically every current-gen title is going to be “forward-compatible” with new hardware anyway. What that means is that any Xbox One game should work on the Xbox Series X, and any PlayStation 4 game should work on PlayStation 5 by default – including titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So there’s no need to spend time and money reworking a seven-year-old game for new hardware; existing versions will work just fine.
If the upgrades were going to be free, allowing players who own a current-gen copy of the game to experience the tweaks and changes on new hardware, I don’t think anyone would mind. In fact, players have praised companies like CD Projekt Red, whose 2015 title The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is receiving such a free upgrade. But Rockstar – and other companies too – plan to re-release their old games and get gamers to shell out more money for the next-gen version. It feels decidedly anti-consumer.
Even though I’m not a big online multiplayer person, I recognise the appeal that Grand Theft Auto V has as an online experience. But after seven years I feel that online experience has run its course, and most players will be ready for a new challenge. Those who want to stick with what they already have can either continue to play on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 or can even bring their existing copy of the game to the new consoles; there’s no need to buy it all over again.
Another company that has been roundly criticised for its approach to next-gen is 505 Games, publisher of Control. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing, as it has great reviews, but it’s another example of next-gen upgrades being denied to existing fans. The only way to play Control will be to buy it again on the new consoles, and to many fans the small upgrade seems like a big expense.
The Last Of Us was similarly criticised at the beginning of the PlayStation 4 era for being re-released in a “remastered” state less than a year on from its PlayStation 3 debut. At the time I was genuinely shocked by the gall of developer Naughty Dog; how can a game less than a year old be remastered already? But The Last Of Us sold very well on PlayStation 4, cementing this business model in the minds of executives as one that works and will rake in cash for comparatively little effort.
At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Re-releasing a game with a few minor upgrades and hardware-specific tweaks is relatively inexpensive and offers companies huge financial rewards. It should be no surprise to learn that a big company wants to make more money, and I get that we live in a society where profit and growth matter. It’s just that it feels so anti-consumer, and even big companies need to be aware of their reputations. It’s easy to dismiss criticism and backlash as coming from just a whiny minority of hardcore fans, but companies like Electronic Arts have found – to their great cost – just what can happen when they push players too far.
It’s only in the last console generation that the idea of cross-generation releases has been such a big deal anyway. In the days of the SNES and the Nintendo 64 the idea of a game from one system being ported wholesale to new hardware just didn’t exist. There were ports, but they tended to be things like Super Mario All-Stars, which was a compilation of several games instead of a single title, and offered players good value as a result.
But if you’d told me in 2005, when the Xbox 360 was launched, that the original Halo game was just going to be straight-up ported to the new system and that players would be expected to “just buy it again” I’d have been absolutely gobsmacked. What a nonsense idea that would have been even as recently as 2005! We’ve come to accept some of these things in the fifteen years since, but even by today’s standards, some of the proposals for next-gen re-releases are drawing well-earned backlash.
Though it wasn’t possible to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic even a few short months ago, the changing situation in the world should be something companies take note of. There’s a good chance that many folks are going to have less disposable income at least in the short-term, and being asked to re-purchase a seven-year-old game on a new console is definitely not something that should be considered under current circumstances. Even were it not for the pandemic, I think this practice would still be inappropriate and anti-consumer. But given where things currently sit, it’s even worse.
This is the kind of practice that can start big companies on a slippery slope to reputational damage and more widespread criticism, and I would advise them to tread carefully. Rockstar – or any other company engaged in a similar practice – could garner a lot of goodwill today by announcing that the next-gen version of whatever game they’re working on will be free to anyone who currently owns it. Or, on the flip side, they could continue to draw criticism and ire for their greed and lack of care.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I haven’t exactly been the biggest supporter of Microsoft’s strategy as we approach the new console generation. In particular, the company’s decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on Xbox One for the first couple of years of the new console’s life seems like a weight around its neck, and makes it a much harder sell at what was already a difficult time. But the leak/announcement of the Xbox Series S – along with its reasonable price at £250 – has definitely shifted my opinion.
The launch of a new generation of consoles is a fun and exciting time for enthusiasts with a suitably high budget, but for a lot of people it can be a moment where they feel left out and left behind. Technology moves on and new games are released, but only for those who can afford it. For players who’ve had to save up just to get a current-gen machine, it can be disappointing to see the newest and best titles be beyond their reach. It’s a position I’ve been in several times, and I know it’s not a nice feeling.
The Xbox Series S is a unique piece of kit. Though there have been cheaper variants of consoles – there’s even an Xbox One S available now – none were released simultaneously with the brand’s flagship machines, meaning that the beginning of a new console generation has always offered players a binary choice: pay up or don’t participate. The Xbox Series S offers players that budget option right from the start, and for many people who have been in the position of thinking next-gen will be unaffordable at launch, it’s undoubtedly a welcome surprise.
The Xbox Series S is not as powerful a machine as the Xbox Series X, and for some players perhaps the perceived downgrade will be a disappointment. But the Series S is still more powerful than the current crop of consoles, and for the market it’s aimed at, I think few will care about 1440p compared to 4K, a smaller, possibly slightly slower NVMe solid-state drive, and other minor differences. The processor at the system’s core is the same one used in the Series X, and while its graphics chip is a less-powerful version, it’s built on the same architecture as its sister console’s.
In short, the Xbox Series S is like getting a mid-tier gaming PC instead of a high-end one. And the PC comparison is apt, because compared to many PC gaming setups, the Series S blows them away. It would be impossible to build anything even vaguely comparable to the Series S for £250 or less, so it feels like a decent machine.
I recently took a look at Game Pass for PC, and the subscription service is also available on Xbox – where it offers over 100 games. The combination of the £8-a-month subscription with the cheap console is an incredibly enticing proposition for budget gamers, and one which is honestly hard to beat. It will likely be hard to beat for several years at least!
For less than the price of a standard Netflix subscription, players will have access to a huge library of titles, including every Xbox exclusive and every new game from a Microsoft-owned studio. Titles already on the service include: Dead Cells, Forza Horizon 4, all five games in the Gears of War series, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Kingdom Hearts 3, Minecraft, No Man’s Sky, the two Ori games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, State of Decay 2, Streets of Rage 4, The Outer Worlds, and Wasteland 3. Those are just some of the highlights, and it’s not unfair to say that Game Pass offers phenomenal value to console players. Combined with the low asking price of the Series S, I think it’s a steal.
There are still some concerns. The fact that Microsoft still plan on releasing games for Xbox One for the next couple of years or so means that realistically, buying an Xbox One S or even a preowned Xbox One is still a cheaper prospect. And I have to confess a degree of concern at the possibility of the Series S’s lower specs potentially holding back next-gen titles within the next five years or so. In short, if Xbox games have to be built with Series S compatibility in mind, will that slow the pace of game development considering that the Series S is comparable to a PC you could buy today?
The first of those points – that the Xbox One is still the cheaper option – may sway some budget gamers. In that sense, as I wrote once before, the biggest competition that the Xbox Series S/X will have won’t come from PlayStation – it’ll come from the Xbox One. But despite that, I think that players who don’t just want a console for the next couple of years could future-proof their gaming setups with a Series S. The low price still makes it a solid option, even if it’s possible to pick up an Xbox One for less money. The price difference between an Xbox One – even preowned – and the Series S won’t be that large, and when the Series S will be able to play new games for the next six-eight years instead of one or two, it ends up being better value in the long run.
If you couldn’t tell, I like this console. I like it far more than the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5! It fills a niche that no major company has tried to fill before, and offers players on a budget a way into next-gen gaming right from day one. There are a lot of people who fall into that category, and for some of them who may have felt next-gen was simply out of reach, they may now feel that they will be able to join in. Expanding the gaming hobby to more people is a great thing, and helping people who would have otherwise missed out or had to wait get a foot in the door is fantastic. I applaud this decision from Microsoft.
The Xbox Series S will be available in November. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Xbox Game Pass for PC has been out for a little while now, and after weighing up the options I decided to finally take the plunge and sign up. In this article I’ll cover my reasoning behind becoming a subscriber as well as my initial impressions of the service and its Windows 10 app. This won’t be a fully in-depth review, it’s really just my first impressions of the service.
First up, I’ll explain why I became a subscriber – and why you might want to as well. In short: I wanted to play Forza Horizon 4 and Game Pass was the cheapest option. I no longer own an Xbox One – I gave mine away years ago – so the only way to get that game is on PC, which is my primary gaming platform these days. But the “standard” edition is £50, and with the game not available on Steam (where sales happen more often) I hadn’t felt committed enough to trying it out to spend that much money. It’s rare that I’ll pay full-price for a game these days, and as someone on a limited budget £50 is just too much.
Enter Game Pass. At time of writing, the PC version of Game Pass is still in its “beta” phase, and costs £4 per month with the first month for just £1. That seems like a pretty good deal – even if the price is set to double when the service fully launches at some point in the future. At £4 per month I could play Forza Horizon 4 for a full year, cancel the service, and still have a few pounds left over compared to buying the game outright – and also have access to dozens of other titles to play in that time. It seems like a solid deal, and that’s why I signed up.
In recent months I’ve been critical of Xbox, mostly because of some of their odd decisions in the run-up to the launch of the Xbox Series X. But I have to admit that for Xbox gamers, Game Pass is a great deal. It’s by far the cheapest way to jump head-first into current-gen gaming, and when the Xbox Series X releases in a couple of months, it’ll be the most economical way to get into next-gen gaming too. Even if the Xbox Series X is priced similarly to the PlayStation 5, Game Pass provides an incentive for players to at least consider Microsoft’s platform simply because of the number of titles on offer. We’re primarily looking at Game Pass for PC today, but the console version currently offers more titles than the PC version and is thus an even better deal.
Microsoft currently plans to launch all of their major first-party games onto the service, and besides Forza Horizon 4 you’ll find such titles as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Outer Worlds, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and even the brand-new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Upcoming titles I’m looking forward to include Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and I’m sure that there will be others. Although Xbox’s lineup of exclusives hasn’t been stellar this generation, Microsoft have made moves in that direction in recent years, snapping up studios like Obsidian and Ninja Theory who will now create titles exclusively for their platforms. Obsidian announced a new title a few months ago called Avowed, which looks to be their take on the fantasy/roleplaying genre and seems to have great potential. Avowed is just one title I’m following with interest from Microsoft, and guess what? When it’s released it’ll come to Game Pass.
So those are the key points in favour of Game Pass as I see it. It feels like a cost-effective way to play some of the newest titles, and even if there’s only one or two games on the list that you’re interested in, Game Pass can still be the cheaper option compared to buying them outright.
Now let’s look at the Windows 10 app.
This has been the least enjoyable part of the Game Pass experience so far. The app is very much a “beta” app, with a weird glitch that signs me out often and a small window that seems to constantly try to pop up only to immediately vanish. This happens every few minutes, and if I have the Xbox app minimised it flashes orange on the taskbar. It’s a minor annoyance, and one I’m sure will be fixed in future, but if you like perfect, seamlessly smooth experiences, the Xbox app for Windows 10 isn’t quite there yet!
However, signing in is a simple procedure – which is good considering how often it signs me out – and most importantly, downloads are at least as fast as those offered by other PC game launchers. The area where I live doesn’t have great internet; I don’t have fibre broadband or 5G or anything like that, so my downloads are never especially fast. But those from Game Pass are as fast as I get elsewhere, so from my perspective that’s about as much as I could have expected!
One other issue that I have is that the same notification keeps popping up every time I sign in. It tells me something like: “your Xbox Live Account is not the same as your Microsoft account!” even though they are both the same account, linked together. Not sure if this is an issue which just affects me or if it’s something everyone has to put up with at the moment!
This is an incredibly minor point, but in the past Xbox allowed players to upload custom pictures to represent themselves and their gamertag – as other platforms like Steam do. But the current version of the Xbox app for PC only allows you to choose from a set list of pictures. As someone who has no friends (on Xbox Live, not in real life!) it doesn’t matter all that much to me, but it’s worth pointing it out.
One thing I did like about the app is that is has a “Surprise Me” button – when clicked this recommends a random game from the Game Pass collection. It’s a bit of fun, and for someone unsure what to play next could even be useful! I don’t see myself using it all that often, but it’s a neat little inclusion.
I’m sure that Microsoft is working on the app behind the scenes to fix its issues and get it ready for prime-time. In a way, it makes sense for them to focus on the console market at the moment, with the launch of the Xbox Series X being imminent. Minor gripes with the PC version can wait while they focus on having as good a console launch as possible under the circumstances.
With enough time and attention, though, Game Pass for PC has the potential to go from strength to strength. At this stage I don’t see it as a Steam competitor – there simply isn’t a big enough library to say that. But it is something that PC gamers could use to augment their Steam libraries, as well as a way to save money on some impressive new titles.
The caveat with any service like this is that you don’t own any of the games, and they can in theory be removed from Game Pass at any time. Game Pass itself could also cease to exist at some point in the future, making replaying games more difficult. In that sense it’s less permanent even than a Steam library, which while wholly digital does at least have a degree of permanence in that you “own” the games you bought. As someone who grew up when renting games – and even consoles – was a big deal, however, that doesn’t bother me all that much.
Game Pass aims to position itself as “the Netflix of games”, and just like Netflix adds and removes content, so too will Game Pass. Most Netflix subscribers are happy with the deal – the subscription provides a huge amount of things to watch, and not owning them doesn’t feel like a particularly big drawback. The same applies to Game Pass – it’s a different, but not altogether unfamiliar – way of gaming.
If you’re someone with an unlimited budget for gaming and a full Steam library, perhaps you don’t need Game Pass. But for budget-conscious gamers looking to get value for money, it really feels like a decent offering. At its supposed full price of £8/$10 a month you’ll be paying £96/$120 per year, which is the cost of around two full-price games. But when you consider you get far more than two games included in Game Pass, from my perspective as someone on a low income that definitely seems like a good deal – provided there are two or more games currently included with the service that you actually want to play! For me it was Forza Horizon 4, but I’ll also surely check out The Outer Worlds and several others, and when my first month only cost £1 and I can now play Forza Horizon 4 immediately, it feels like I saved a packet compared to buying the game outright.
Game Pass isn’t going to totally revolutionise the way we play games – at least, not on current form. But for gamers on a budget it offers an inexpensive way into the hobby, as well as a way to complement an existing library of games for everyone else. Despite the issues with the Windows 10 app, I recommend taking a look.
This post was not sponsored; I purchased a Game Pass for PC subscription for myself and these are my genuine opinions based on my experience. The Xbox and Game Pass brands, as well as others mentioned above, are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
For me, the beginning of September has always marked the start of the slow march to the holiday season. It’s the end of the summer holidays, kids return to school, the weather slowly cools, leaves begin to fall, and sunset gets earlier – all signalling that autumn has begun. It’s around this time of year when thoughts turn to the holidays, and to budgeting for big expenses at that time of year. With that in mind, now that we’re into September, it’s a surprise to me that we don’t know how much the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to cost.
It’s pretty obvious that both companies are playing a high-stakes game of “chicken” – neither wants to announce first so they’re both holding fast, waiting for the other to make the first move. Looking back at past console launches, the cheaper system has been by far the best-seller. The Xbox 360 undercut the PlayStation 3 and enjoyed great success in that console generation, and the PlayStation 4 came in $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, and while in that case price arguably wasn’t the only factor in the Xbox One’s troubled launch, the fact that the cheaper console sold significantly better is clearly impacting Microsoft and Sony’s decision-making at this critical time.
But in past cycles, prices were announced much earlier. By the middle of June 2013 we knew the prices for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – more than five months ahead of their launches. Microsoft promise the Xbox Series X is coming in November, and it’s assumed that the PlayStation 5 will follow suit. But November is literally in just a couple of months now, and there’s still no price information.
If it were good news, I think it’s fair to assume we’d know by now. If either company were planning to launch a system for less than say £350, they’d have made that abundantly clear and would be using it as a selling point. The fact that they’re keeping their pricing plans secret is in part because of how they’re in competition with each other, but it’s also at least in part because it’s bad news – both consoles are going to launch with a hefty price tag, which is not a good look in 2020 with the economy flailing.
Microsoft has perhaps the most riding on pricing. As I’ve said before, undercutting the PlayStation 5 is perhaps their last good strategy for the already-beleaguered Xbox Series X, which has seen incomprehensibly bad business decisions already hamper its launch. If the Xbox Series X could find a way to be a hundred dollars (or more) cheaper than the PlayStation 5, suddenly it seems a better proposition and Microsoft is back in the game.
Sony seems better-placed than Microsoft right now, with a good lineup of exclusive games that are being built from the ground up for the PlayStation 5 instead of being limited by current-gen hardware. But an excessively high price could see them repeat the problems faced by the PlayStation 3 two generations ago, and even if they don’t end up charging $600-650 as some have suggested, if Xbox is able to undercut them they could still suffer. So while Microsoft has arguably the most to gain from a positive reaction to pricing, Sony certainly has the most to lose from a negative reaction.
At this late stage, though, both companies are going to suffer criticism and negative feedback for as long as they keep their prices covered up. With two months to go until launch, players and parents need to know how much to budget; keeping this information private is incredibly anti-consumer. Both Sony and Microsoft know their prices by now, having worked out how best to break even and turn a profit. They’re staying quiet on purpose, and people are starting to talk about that.
Sooner rather than later, both sides are going to have to rip off the metaphorical bandage. If the prices are high, reaction will be negative, especially from players whose jobs are under threat in a seriously disrupted economy. But going into the launch with that negativity around their necks will be harmful to Sony and Microsoft, and the more time they have after making price announcements means more time for their marketing and PR departments to spin it in a positive way – or at least blunt the edge. In short, if it’s bad news, giving players more time to get used to it rather than going into the launch window with potential buyers still reeling from the shock announcement will be beneficial.
A delay helps no one, and in the end will backfire on both companies and hurt them as they go into their most important sales window in seven years. In the absence of news, people will make their own assumptions – and the assumption right now is that if they had something good to say on pricing, they’d have said it ages ago and built their marketing around it! The conclusion gamers are drawing is that both consoles are going to be expensive – perhaps the most expensive machines ever, even topping the $600 mark. That’s putting people off right now, as in the current economic climate it’s increasingly hard for many people to justify such a large expense on a “luxury item” like a games console.
We need to see both companies make immediate announcements on price and stop messing around. The corporate game of “chicken” has gone on too long, and its anti-consumer nature is already causing both companies and their brands harm. They can’t keep this up any longer – players have a right to know how much they’re going to be expected to fork over for the new consoles.
At this stage I don’t know when we could expect an announcement. It may be imminent from one or both companies… or it may not be something we’ll get for weeks or even until next month. That would be a mistake for the reasons I’ve already given, and at a time like this, consumers need clarity. Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to be expensive pieces of kit. We get it. But please just tell us how expensive so we can either start saving up or get the disappointment out of the way.
Both companies have been looking at this situation selfishly. Microsoft sees a pathway to a better-than-expected launch, and Sony fears losing the dominance they’ve enjoyed for years. But both companies’ selfishness has crossed a line into being something decidedly anti-consumer, and it needs to stop. At this point, I’d even wager that the company willing to make an announcement will get at least some positive reaction simply by demonstrating they’re not covering up their price. Either of them could even stage an event based around how their competitor is keeping their price a secret – something that could give them at least a temporary boost.
Either way, this has gone on too long. It’s past time that players around the world got to learn how much they’ll have to play for next-gen gaming in a couple of months’ time. We shouldn’t be in this position of having to ask and ask and ask – this information should have been available ages ago. From this point on, every day that Microsoft and Sony continue this cover-up is going to hurt them – and hopefully when they see that, they’ll finally come clean.
The Xbox Series X is the property of Microsoft, and the PlayStation 5 is the property of Sony. Both consoles are due for launch before the end of 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
The blogosphere and the gaming world have been aflame today, following the announcement that Halo Infinite has been delayed. 343 Industries – the studio which acquired the Halo brand when original developer Bungie left the series a decade ago – made the announcement earlier, and it’s significant because the new game will no longer launch alongside the Xbox Series X. Well, unless that gets delayed too!
The general consensus is that this announcement is the worst possible news for the Xbox Series X and could ruin its launch. But will it?
I don’t think the Halo Infinite delay will prove to be all that significant for one major reason: the Xbox Series X was going to have an underwhelming launch anyway. The hardest of the hardcore Xbox fanatics will buy a console, and perhaps a few well-meaning aunties and grandpas will buy one for their relatives for Christmas, but the console most gamers are interested in and excited for is the PlayStation 5. And I’m not saying that as a PlayStation fanboy – for the longest time I was an Xbox guy. It’s just the reality of where most console gamers are right now.
Microsoft – as I’ve noted several times already – has made the incomprehensible decision to launch the Xbox Series X with literally no exclusive games. Not even one. Halo Infinite is also scheduled for a release on Xbox One and PC, as are a number of other first- and third-party titles that Microsoft has shown off. The arguments in favour of buying an Xbox Series X this year were already nonexistent, so removing one non-exclusive game from its launch lineup will have no material impact on sales. I can practically guarantee that.
With all of the issues that are stacking up right now – including those of Microsoft’s own making – I’d argue there’s a pretty solid case for delaying the console’s launch until next year. In the current economic climate, I’m already expecting that fewer people than usual will be interested in a brand-new console for the inevitable £400+ price tag, and many fans – even those who are genuinely interested to play some next-gen games – may have no choice but to wait it out.
If the Xbox Series X launches alongside the PlayStation 5, all it will do is draw unfavourable comparisons. The lack of exclusive titles is a large part of that, and it’s not inconceivable to think that there could be hundreds of thousands of unsold units sitting on shelves or in warehouses come January. It feels like it’s going to be an expensive flop, and while it may eventually build up a solid user base a few years down the line, the Xbox Series X is already lining up to be the upcoming generation’s second- or even third-tier machine.
The Halo Infinite delay will upset some Halo diehards who were excited to see their favourite franchise get a new release for the first time in over five years. But in terms of the launch of the new console – where it wasn’t a system exclusive – it’s genuinely hard to see how it will have any impact whatsoever.
When considering the more general issue of game delays – and, incidentally, delays in other entertainment media as well – I’m all in favour of them. How many titles have been released just in the last few years that would have benefited massively from some additional development time? I can think of many, such as: Anthem, Fallout 76, Mass Effect: Andromeda, No Man’s Sky, 2013’s Star Trek, and WWE 2K20. All of these games released to negative reviews and underwhelming sales, so from that point of view, I fully support the delay to Halo Infinite – and to any other upcoming title that needs it.
I think Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good example of how to screw up a launch, and a great comparison to Halo Infinite. The Mass Effect series was already tarnished by the ending of Mass Effect 3, and was relying on Andromeda to be a semi-reboot of the series. Similarly, the Halo series has been experiencing gradually declining reviews, and while there isn’t one moment fans can point to on a par with Mass Effect 3′s ending that really upset the fanbase, there’s a sense that the series isn’t as good as it once was. Halo Infinite has billed itself as a soft reboot, aiming to return Halo to its roots and put some recent disappointments behind it.
When Mass Effect: Andromeda launched, it was a bug-riddled mess. It was mocked online, and the mockery and memes hurt its sales far more than the mediocre reviews the game received. Halo Infinite has already seen its trailer come under heavy criticism for its visuals, which many felt look decidedly current-gen – an odd criticism for a game that literally is a current-gen game as it will be released on Xbox One, but that’s beside the point. If Halo Infinite were to release later this year in its current form, it would have undoubtedly drawn criticism on a scale similar to Mass Effect: Andromeda. And that game killed the Mass Effect series, which was “put on hiatus” in the aftermath of its disappointing launch and underwhelming sales.
It’s clear that 343 Industries and Microsoft feel that Halo Infinite needs more development time to work on the issues it currently faces. And to them I say: take all the time you need. I’d rather wait a little longer for a better, more polished game than play a rushed, broken mess.
But I don’t agree that it will damage the reputation or sales performance of the Xbox Series X. That’s not because the game doesn’t matter to that console – the Halo series is one of Xbox’s few strong selling points, after all – but because behind-the-scenes business decisions have already condemned the Xbox Series X to second place behind the PlayStation 5. In fact if I were advising Microsoft, I’d ask them if they wanted to take this opportunity to delay the console as well.
Flip the issue on its head, and let’s think about it this way around: would Halo Infinite have been a massive help to the Xbox Series X at launch? Because that’s the fundamental assumption people are making when they say its delay will hurt the console, and from where I’m sitting that doesn’t feel true. If I don’t own an Xbox or a PC and – for some reason – have a desperate need to play Halo Infinite, my best bet is to pick up a cheap Xbox One S or a preowned Xbox One from 2013 and play it there. I don’t need to buy an expensive Xbox Series X to play a game that I could play on a console that costs less than half the price. And if I’m already an Xbox One owner, I’m in no rush to upgrade because every Xbox Series X game is coming my way, including Halo Infinite.
So at the end of the day, Halo Infinite’s delay should be good for the quality of the finished title. I’m all in favour of that. And it won’t have any material impact on the launch of the Xbox Series X – because that console is destined for a seriously disappointing launch anyway.
Halo Infinite is the copyright of 343 Industries and Xbox Game Studios. The Xbox Series X and Xbox One consoles are the property of Microsoft. Header image and Mass Effect: Andromeda promo screenshot courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
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.
As I hinted at last time, video game prices may be going up when the next generation of home consoles launch later this year. Currently, brand-new video games cost $59.99 in the USA and £49.99-£54.99 in the UK, but this could rise significantly – potentially hitting $69.99 in the US, with a comparable rise in the UK to £59.99-£64.99. If prices go up in one market, it seems a sure thing they’ll rise elsewhere as well, so we mustn’t be fooled into thinking this is a US-only issue.
It’s felt for a while as though games companies were playing a long game of “chicken” when it comes to being the first to announce a price hike. No company wanted the criticism that would inevitably come with going first, but 2K Games could wait no longer and announced that the price for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of their basketball game NBA 2K21 would be $69.99 in the United States. Now that the proverbial dam has a crack, I expect the whole thing to come crashing down as other major publishers follow suit. While at time of writing only NBA 2K21 is priced this way, it really feels like an inevitability that many other next-gen titles will join it.
Video game prices have been static for years. Prices rose when the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were launched, but since then there hasn’t been any change – at least not to the price of the basic version of games. In 2005-06, downloadable content and in-game microtransactions were rare – DLC primarily consisted of large-scale expansion packs, and microtransactions, where they existed at all, were mostly just in massively-multiplayer online games. The gaming landscape has changed significantly since, and many games today – even those that retail for the full-price of $59.99 or £54.99 – still have in-game marketplaces, in-game currencies, microtransactions, single-use items for purchase, lootboxes, and myriad other ways to vacuum up cash from players. Many of these systems debuted in mobile games and free-to-play titles, but they have become commonplace in full-priced games too. So while it’s true that the surface price for video games hasn’t changed in almost 15 years, in order to get a complete game it often costs far more than that initial offering.
Some games take this to extremes. I’ve written before about Civilization VI, a turn-based strategy game for PC that I greatly enjoy. The base game costs £49.99 when not on sale, but in order to buy the complete game including all of its DLC packs – some of which consist of only a single new faction and a small number of missions – costs a whopping £144.91 if you were to buy it on PC without any discounts. And that’s not even the worst example: Europa Universalis IV, another strategy title, would cost over £300 to purchase the full game plus all of its DLC. This issue isn’t unique to strategy games either: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey costs over £95 to buy its “Ultimate” edition, Shadow of the Tomb Raider costs over £80 for its “Definitive” edition, and the “Ultimate” edition of FIFA 21 can currently be pre-ordered for the limited-time special offer price of £89.99. So it’s definitely the case that the “basic” price of video games may have been static, but buying a complete game has cost well over $59.99 or £54.99 for years.
If you looked at my article about this year’s Steam Summer Sale you’ll recall that I said sales like that make PC gaming much more affordable. And that is true – aside from Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Last of Us Part II, I haven’t paid full-price for a video game in a long time. It’s only on rare occasions, where a title is an immediate must-buy for me, that I’m willing to consider paying full price. But on consoles in particular, where sales like those on PC are less frequent and less generous, many people are stuck paying full price or close to it for most games they purchase. A £10 increase on a £54.99 title represents a price hike of 18%; a $10 rise on a $59.99 title is similar at over 16%.
If it were a black-and-white choice between paying a higher price for a complete experience versus having to buy DLC and navigate various editions, I think many gamers would be okay with the price rise. It would streamline the buying process, it would mean any game purchased would be complete without needing to buy expensive add-ons down the line, and it would be generally seen as an improvement. But no one is seriously entertaining the possibility of that being the case. The basic price of games will rise, and if we’re incredibly lucky, the prices of DLC packs and special editions will just stay the same. Those things won’t disappear because prices go up. In fact, what seems more likely to happen is that some games will hike up the prices of DLC and in-game content as well.
I’m not unsympathetic to companies who put up their prices after keeping them the same for well over a decade. But video gaming as a hobby has been growing steadily for years, and with it, the profits of games companies have grown too. While the new console generation may seem like good cover for a price hike and even a good excuse, there’s no actual reason for it. Developing a game for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 doesn’t cost substantially more than developing a game for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and when games already bring in money by the bucketload it’s hard to justify a price hike.
After the financial crash of 2007-08, it took a long time for the economy to recover. In the UK, it’s only in the last couple of years or so that austerity policies had begun to be relaxed. The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on the economy all over the world, and some economists are suggesting the longer-term effects will make 2008 look like a walk in the park. Even if that’s an exaggeration, many people are not in a good financial situation at the moment, which makes it an even worse time for an arbitrary and unnecessary price rise.
However, all that being said, if the big companies of the games industry go ahead with plans to raise prices on next-generation titles, there really isn’t much we can do about it. Some have suggested boycotting games using that price, but very few online-organised gamer boycotts have ever accomplished anything. If 2K Games uses this pricing model for its other titles and other big companies follow suit, practically all new games released for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be in that $69.99 and £64.99 price bracket. People who bought new consoles will have no choice but to buy games at that price if they want to have anything to play, and with sports games like NBA 2K21 in particular being exclusive licensed titles, it isn’t possible to shop around or go elsewhere. If you want a licensed basketball game with your favourite team and players on your new console, it’s NBA 2K21 or nothing. We need only take a cursory glance at history to see how any company that has a monopoly can get away with charging whatever it wants for that product.
As the games industry marches ever closer to an all-digital future, that extra £10 or $10 per title will all go straight back to the company. Physical game shops – like Game here in the UK or Gamestop in North America – have been on incredibly shaky ground for years; if the coronavirus pandemic and months of closure hasn’t killed them off they won’t last much longer. With no need to share the extra money their games bring in with shops – as well as needing to produce an ever-decreasing number of physical copies of games anyway – companies look set to enjoy a significant increase in profits on a per-unit basis. If games were profitable at $59.99 or £54.99, they’re now raking in potentially 16-18% more revenue – and that’s all pure profit.
It’s true that a significant amount of money earned by big games companies is re-invested in making new games, and we shouldn’t ignore that as it potentially means bigger budgets for some titles – hopefully leading to better and more polished experiences. But a lot of that money goes to shareholders and investors, as well as to highly-paid CEOs and managers. Raising prices for consumers at a time of international crisis to reward a tiny number of shareholders, investors, and corporate leaders is pretty unfair.
At the end of the day, across-the-board price hikes are going to happen. 2K may have gone first, but sooner or later others will follow. Maybe the backlash – though it seems fairly muted right now – will be offputting in 2020 given all the issues in the global economy, meaning some companies hold off. But even if they wait until 2021 or 2022, the days where games cost $59.99 or £54.99 are numbered.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries listed.
The end of June is the halfway point of the year, and it’s a nice opportunity to take stock for a few minutes. This isn’t going to be a major recap of what’s come before (I’ll save that for my “end-of-year” article in December) but I thought it could be fun to talk about some of the things I’m looking forward to in the next six months.
I don’t really enjoy the summer season. The weather is too hot (yes, even in the UK it gets hot sometimes), there are annoying insects buzzing around all the time, and the sun rises at an obscene hour. Seriously, it gets light here by 4 o’clock! The summer months are also when television schedules tend to be lighter, as more folks concentrate on their summer holidays. The standard “television season” runs from September to April or May, and while of course there are still lots of things to watch at this time of year, there tends to be less of interest to me. The decline of traditional broadcast television as we enter an age of on-demand streaming has lessened the impact of this, however, which is fantastic!
The biggest story of 2020 is of course the coronavirus pandemic. This has massively disrupted production and release schedules across the entertainment industry, and what should have been a big summer season for films is practically nonexistent right now. Even the Olympic Games, which were to take place in Tokyo, and the Euro 2020 football tournament have been postponed until next year, both of which would have been big events to enjoy this summer.
So under the circumstances, what am I most looking forward to? It has to be Star Trek, of course! You probably already knew that. Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is due out any time now, and I’m still hopeful that we’ll see Lower Decks debut before the end of the year as well, per the original plan. I’m really interested – and a little nervous – to see what kind of story Discovery will tell having left its 23rd Century setting behind. I’ve already taken a look at the trailer for the upcoming season, and you can find my thoughts on it by clicking or tapping here. I really expected that we’d have seen a tentative release date – or even just a release window – when Star Trek: Picard was on the air, as using that show to plug Discovery would’ve made sense. The latest news seems to be that post-production work is practically finished; I’m anticipating a release date any day now.
We should also be seeing the fifth season of The Expanse before the end of the year, and perhaps a second season of Netflix’s The Witcher series. The Expanse is an absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi show, and if you haven’t seen it yet I honestly cannot recommend it enough. After an extensive fan campaign to save the show from cancellation, Amazon bought the rights and it’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video – which is where you can also watch the first season of Star Trek: Picard if you haven’t already.
The fourth season of Rick & Morty wrapped up only a few weeks ago, having been split into two blocks of five episodes. It had debuted back in November last year, and while I’d be surprised to see the fifth season show up so soon after the fourth – especially given the series is notorious for its long waits between seasons – I can’t help but be a little hopeful that Season 5 could follow Season 4’s model and kick off in the run-up to Christmas.
The Terror – a horror anthology series – had a great first season and an okay second season, and while there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet, it would be great to see Season 3 some time this year too. The Terror made great use of two historical settings; another mini-series coming out in August with an historical basis is The Good Lord Bird. This will follow a fictionalised portrayal of real-life abolitionist John Brown in the years immediately prior to the American Civil War. As a history buff, I’m hyped for that!
The 1932 novel Brave New World is being adapted as a series, and will star Alden Ehrenreich (of Solo: A Star Wars Story fame). Not to be confused with Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series, this is one that I’m tentatively adding to my watchlist when it debuts in July. Also coming in July is Intelligence, a sitcom set at GCHQ – the UK’s cyber-security headquarters and starring David Schwimmer.
July is a big month, as it could additionally see the Disney+ original Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe. The exact release date hasn’t been revealed yet, which leads me to think it may have been delayed. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb so I’m looking forward to it! Although several characters from the animated show have popped up in Milo Murphy’s Law, this will be the first proper reunion since 2015. Could a fifth season be on the cards if this one-off special is successful?
Changing genres – and tones – entirely, American Crime Story: Impeachment has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House, but will instead focus on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The first season of this anthology series back in 2016 looked at the trial of OJ Simpson, and I’m curious to see its dramatic take on the Clinton scandal. On CBS All Access – the new digital home of Star Trek in the USA – a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is scheduled to premiere. I put the first adaptation (from the 1990s) on my tongue-in-cheek list of things to watch while self-isolating, as it’s set in the aftermath of a plague. I’m curious to see how this new adaptation will unfold.
Speaking of plagues, The Walking Dead is getting a second spin-off. While I no longer follow the main series, as I feel it became repetitive and uninteresting somewhere around its fourth or fifth season, the new spin-off titled The Walking Dead: World Beyond promises to take a different look at the apocalypse. Fear the Walking Dead told a story set during the first days of the zombie apocalypse – something arguably missing from the original show – and World Beyond plans to look at the world more than a decade later, focusing on a new cast of younger characters. I’m curious, at least, to see what the producers have in store.
In film, there’s slim pickings at the moment. With cinemas tentatively set to reopen over the summer, at least here in the UK, things could pick up – but I think we need to be prepared for further delays and disruption if the pandemic situation changes. That being said, there are some films due out in the next few months as things begin to get back to normal. The King’s Man is the third entry in the Kingsman series of action-comedies, and has the potential to be a fun romp when it’s released in September. I enjoyed the first entry in the series as a send-up of Bond-esque films.
That leads us neatly to No Time To Die, which is set to wrap up the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films. Postponed from its original April slot, the film won’t release until November (which means I won’t get to see it until 2021). I’m expecting it to be an explosive finale – leading to a soft reboot of the 007 franchise in the coming years.
Bill and Ted Face the Music is the third entry in the series that helped make Keanu Reeves a household name. This one strikes me as an odd choice; the previous Bill and Ted films were very much of their time – the late ’80s/early ’90s. Returning to the franchise almost thirty years later is a bold move – will it pay off?
Starring Russell Crowe, Unhinged is billed as a thriller about a woman being stalked after a road rage incident. It has the potential to be interesting when it’s released in August. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a follow-up to the successful 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is set for release in October. Though I’m not a big fan of horror in general, Antebellum looks potentially interesting, at least in its premise – a modern-day black woman is sent back in time to be a slave in the American south.
Disney is releasing another live-action remake of one of their classics: this time it’s Mulan, which is scheduled to arrive in late July; the film will feature Rosalind Chao of Star Trek fame in a co-starring role. The original Mulan was great, but I haven’t really felt any of the live-action remakes that I’ve seen so far have lived up to their source material. Hopefully Mulan can buck the trend!
Another remake of Dune will be released in cinemas in December, and this time there will be an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård. I’m half-curious, half-nervous about this one. The novel Dune has been notoriously difficult to adapt, and the 2020 version aims to be the first part of a duology – the second part of which, I fear, may never see the light of day if the first part isn’t well-received.
The video game industry is already gearing up for the release of the next generation of home consoles. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are set to launch in time for the holidays – probably in mid/late November. Along with the new consoles will be a slew of launch titles and exclusives – PlayStation seems to have the upper hand in that department.
Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge title when it releases in November. From famed developer CD Projekt Red, this game has been on a lot of folks’ radars since it was announced way back in 2013. After being delayed twice already, and with the new console generation looming, the pressure is on to meet this latest release date.
Rocket Arena, which was announced during June’s EA Play presentation, looks like a fun multiplayer title in the vein of Overwatch. EA Play also showed off the trailer for Star Wars: Squadrons, which is set to release in October. A Star Wars game all about piloting X-Wings and TIE Fighters has been something people have been asking for for ages – older titles like Rogue Squadron were great, and this looks to be a modern incarnation of titles like that. Also coming in the Star Wars franchise is Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
As a history buff, and a fan of strategy games, I’m interested to see what A Total War Saga: Troy brings to the table. The Total War series has been running for a long time, and I remember fondly its earlier iterations like Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War – the latter of which must’ve been one of my most-played games of the early-2000s!
Ghost of Tsushima could well fill the role for the PlayStation 4 that The Last of Us did for the PlayStation 3: being the console’s swansong and ending the generation on a high. A third-person action-adventure following a samurai as he battles the Mongols, this game has been looking amazing in pre-release marketing.
There’s still the possibility that Watch Dogs Legion and the remake of Star Wars Episode I Racer will be out before the end of the year. And there will be new entries in EA Sports’ annual franchise games, such as FIFA 21. I will be curious to see how, if at all, the sports games address the massive disruption to this most recent season in their career modes and commentaries. Having not picked up a FIFA title since FIFA 18, I had been considering FIFA 21 – it’s hard to justify buying new iterations annually, but after a three-year gap I should hope to find improved gameplay!
There will be a weird Marvel’s Avengers game – weird because the developers didn’t get the rights or licenses to make their characters look like the actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the game seeming to make use of an otherwise similar aesthetic. Hopefully that won’t be too jarring! Twin Mirror and Tell Me Why are also scheduled for release this year, and are from the team behind Life is Strange and Vampyr. And finally, a second remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 is due out in October. Unlike the version currently available, which took the older titles of the Dreamcast era and upscaled them, the new game bills itself as a full-on remake.
So that’s it. Well, that isn’t necessarily it, but that’s all I could think of that I’m looking forward to between now and Christmas based on what’s been announced (and what we can guess or assume is coming). Hopefully there will be a few surprises in there too.
If I had to pick a number one right now, it would be Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. But there are plenty of other things to look forward to!
All titles and properties listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, developer, publisher, or company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Xbox undoubtedly lost the current console generation. Sales estimates put the PlayStation 4 at more than double the sales of the Xbox One, which is a bit of a surprise coming on the back of the Xbox 360’s dominance in the previous cycle. Aside from an incredibly rocky launch, where the Xbox One’s online-only model, inability to share or trade-in games, and forcing the console to be bundled with the Kinect were all criticised, Xbox One’s biggest problem through the whole generation has been a lack of exclusive games.
Just off the top of my head I can name a number of PlayStation 4 exclusives, many of which were well-received are considered among the best titles of the generation: there’s God of War, Uncharted 4, Spider-Man, and Horizon Zero Dawn, as well as remasters of titles like The Last of Us and Uncharted 1-3. What does Xbox have in response? The Halo series, but with the recent release of those titles on PC, only Halo 5 remains a true exclusive. Other Xbox One titles, like the Forza series, Sunset Overdrive, and Sea of Thieves were also released for PC. That doesn’t have to be a problem, but not having any exclusive titles robs a console of one of its major selling points. The fact that Xbox’s lineup of titles have been generally thought of as average rather than great definitely didn’t help, and Xbox One has been an underwhelming console ever since it launched in 2013.
I didn’t see anything in yesterday’s PlayStation 5 reveal presentation that blew me away. As I wrote previously when looking at Microsoft’s Xbox Series X gameplay trailer, the biggest selling-point for new consoles since at least the era of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 has been graphics. And none of the titles on show either for Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 look significantly better than what’s currently on offer. As a result, in order to stand out in a difficult market, the consoles are going to really have to push their exclusive titles, and this is where PlayStation 5 has the upper hand.
The issues Xbox has had this generation are not going away. In fact, they’re compounded by the strange decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on the Xbox One for at least the next couple of years. This means that any new Xbox title is constrained by the system specifications of 2013’s Xbox One and will need to remain compatible with that device. So far it seems like PlayStation has avoided this pitfall, but even so I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat thinking how amazing PlayStation 5’s graphics were.
Games in 2020 look great. PC games can run in 4K resolution with high frame rates, and even the oldest versions of the current crop of consoles manage to output decent-looking titles. The Nintendo Switch, despite its small form factor, can run games like The Witcher 3, and even titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons look great on that system. PlayStation and Xbox have long billed themselves as the “hardcore gamer” brands, and they’ve both put a big focus on graphics and how games look. While it seems that the reaction to the PlayStation 5 announcement is generally positive, I’m disappointed that neither brand is really doing anything different.
The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – which has a truly awful name – feel like minor iterations of what we already have. There will be some quality-of-life improvements for sure: better battery life in the control pad, faster loading times as a result of using SSDs instead of hard drives, a better rumble/vibration feature in the control pad, etc. But beyond these small things, there are no new genres being pioneered as there had been in the past. There are no new ways to play – both systems have control pads scarcely any different to current generation controllers. The graphics on display look great, but graphics already looked great and I didn’t see anything in the PlayStation 5 or Xbox presentations that wouldn’t feel right at home in the current generation. In short, is there really much point to a new generation of consoles in 2020?
If the new consoles can’t do anything fundamentally different or transform players’ experiences in new ways, there’s definitely an argument to be made that it would be better to continue with the current consoles, even though they’re into their seventh year of life. Nintendo at least offers innovation – the Wii introduced motion controls, and the Switch is a hybrid between a handheld system and a home console. Xbox and PlayStation are really just offering more of the same.
In this environment, what will matter is exclusive titles. Whichever brand is perceived as having the best exclusives and the most exclusives will benefit, because when the graphics look samey, when the consoles look samey, and when it’s hard to really upsell a small difference in loading times or longer batter life, exclusive titles are what players will be focusing on. While PlayStation 4 won the argument this time around, any time a new console generation kicks off it’s a case of the slate being wiped clean. It should be up for grabs, and both companies should be going for it. But they aren’t.
PlayStation 4 will pass the baton of varied and great exclusive titles to PlayStation 5, as they demonstrated last night. Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Project Athia, Returnal, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Destruction All-Stars, and Horizon Forbidden West, as well as a remaster of Demon’s Souls makes for an impressive-looking lineup. None of the titles blew me away in terms of their graphics, but they all look like they have the potential to be great games. And this matters! Exclusive titles are going to be a huge selling point this generation, and if Xbox Series X doesn’t offer many, and only has multiplatform titles like Assassin’s Creed or FIFA, it’s hard to justify picking up that console instead of a PlayStation 5, which offers those same titles plus a bunch of exciting exclusives.
PlayStation is playing essentially the same hand that it has since 2013. Why mix it up too much if it works, right? Xbox looks set to stumble into the same trap it did this generation too.
All that’s left now is for both companies to sort out their price structures – and to make sure that the coronavirus pandemic won’t disrupt their launches. If I were advising Microsoft, I’d suggest the best chance they have right now is to try and undercut the PlayStation 5 in a big way. If Xbox Series X could manage to be £100 or more cheaper, it suddenly seems like a better option, even if its exclusive lineup is lacklustre. But we’ll have to wait and see.
All brands and properties mentioned above belong to their respective owners. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are scheduled to release by the end of this year (2020). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
In the absence of any news at all about the PlayStation 5, Xbox has had the floor to itself when it comes to marketing for their next-generation console, the awfully-named Xbox Series X. They announced the console back in December, and its design, controller, and even its specifications have all been shown off. The next thing Microsoft had to do was show off gameplay, which they finally did in a trailer which was released alongside a scaled-down promotional event.
The trailer has not been well-received, with its like-to-dislike ratio on YouTube skewing very negative, and I think that there are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that the trailer promised “gameplay”, and much of what was shown was not actual gameplay, but concepts and “in-engine footage”, which is industry code for pre-rendered visuals. There can be a world of difference from CGI created using a game’s engine and how a game actually looks when being played – something gamers are ever more aware of in an age of shady marketing.
So for Xbox gamers who wanted to see how good games might actually look on the Xbox Series X, the trailer didn’t deliver, at least for a significant amount of its runtime. But there is another issue, a bigger issue which speaks not just to Microsoft’s current strategy but to the pace of development in the games industry overall.
Games on a current-gen console can look pretty good. Even titles that are five or six years old can still look absolutely amazing – many people cite The Witcher 3 from 2015 or 2018’s Red Dead Redemption II as being among the most beautiful games ever made, and I’d add into the mix titles like Project Cars, which was released in 2015, as being another example of a game that is still visually stunning. These titles and others were, as all big-budget titles have been this console generation, limited by the available hardware – in Microsoft’s case, the Xbox One, which was released in 2013. Any game had to be able to run on 2013 hardware efficiently, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to be sold. So all of the titles mentioned had that limitation and still managed to look fantastic.
I was struck when writing an article earlier this week by two screenshots. The screenshots were from games released only a decade apart, both in the same franchise, and the difference in what was capable is truly remarkable. The first screenshot was taken from Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on the SNES, a game from 1993. The second was from Knights of the Old Republic, a 2003 title for the Xbox and PC. See the difference for yourself below:
What’s immediately apparent is how far games had come in such a short span of time. Not just the visuals, though that’s a huge part of it. But Super Star Wars was 2D, with no voices and only text. It was a fun game, but it was just a game. And this is partly my own bias showing, as Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favourite games of all time, but that game feels cinematic; it’s a beautiful 3D world which the player can explore, fully voiced by some pretty great actors, and it drags the player into the story in a way the older title just… didn’t. In short, it was leaps and bounds ahead of Super Star Wars and came a mere ten years later. Many of today’s games – even the big-budget, AAA titles – could have been made ten years ago and wouldn’t feel terribly out of place.
The change from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was probably the smallest ever, especially in graphical terms. To stick with Microsoft, as they’re the subject of this piece, games produced in the latter part of the Xbox 360’s life, like Mass Effect 2, for example, still hold up today as being perfectly acceptable in terms of how they look. In fact, if Mass Effect 2 were released today, I’d be perfectly happy with a game that looked like that even in 2020 – and herein lies Microsoft’s challenge, and the groundwork for their undoing.
For a variety of reasons, the pace of advancement in computing has slowed. Where processor speeds rocketed up through the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, the rate of change has slowed. Modern CPUs and GPUs are still better and offer more by way of performance than their predecessors, but the change is less noticeable with each iteration than it used to be. There’s also the general lack of a major new feature or way of playing compared to the introduction of 3D worlds, or even the creation of new genres which means that a new generation of consoles in 2020 lacks a “killer app” – something brand-new that the current generation can’t offer.
In Microsoft’s case this is compounded by a strange decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on the current Xbox One during the new console’s first couple of years of life. To reiterate the point I made earlier, every single title is thus limited by the system specifications of 2013’s Xbox One. In order to remain compatible with that console, a game is constrained in what it can do and how far it can push boundaries.
That combination of factors has come together to make the Xbox Series X an underwhelming prospect. In addition, many of the games scheduled to launch alongside the console are from franchises that have been around for a long time. Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Forza, and many others are all game series that that players are familiar with, and that combination – the similar visuals and the familiar games – makes the Xbox Series X feel like nothing new. And with all of its titles supposedly available on Xbox One, I’m left wondering – as many people seem to be – just why anyone would bother buying an Xbox Series X, especially at launch.
The new console offers a barebones upgrade in terms of graphics, which is even less noticeable compared to the Xbox One X, and no unique titles or ways to play. That just doesn’t seem like good value – or offer any value at all. About the only thing that the Xbox Series X claims to offer that’s new is the ability to output 8K visuals – but there are very few 8K screens right now, and no games that run natively in 8K. While that might be great future-proofing, as of right now it represents a big dose of nothing.
The only other changes and improvements on offer are minor quality-of-life things: the battery life of the control pad, the reduced loading times thanks to switching from a hard drive to a solid-state drive, and perhaps a shinier interface are really all the Xbox Series X has to offer. In a previous console generation, if you were to stack up a Nintendo 64 against a Nintendo GameCube, or a Sega Saturn against a Dreamcast the differences are immediate and obvious. Nothing in Xbox’s “gameplay reveal trailer” looked any different to what’s already available, and while we don’t yet have the console in our hands to confirm this, I would bet good money that an awful lot of consumers would genuinely struggle to tell the difference between an Xbox One X and an Xbox Series X version of the same game. I will be really interested to see a side-by-side, frame-by-frame comparison when the new console launches!
I really do sympathise with Xbox fans who feel let down. And in a way, even though this console generation has dragged on to become one of the longest, if there really isn’t much to gain from creating new consoles, there’s an argument to be made that companies should wait and continue to make the most of what’s already available; trying to force what looks to be a pretty minor upgrade onto gamers seems, at least on the surface, to be rather anti-consumer. I’d wager that’s the main reason why a lot of people came away from Microsoft’s trailer unsatisfied: none of the titles on offer or the graphics shown off feel better than what’s already available – or even any different – and the end result is that people feel as though they’re being asked to buy a very similar product to what they already have to access these samey titles.
Nintendo realised a long time ago that the value of a new console is tied to innovation and doing things differently. By focusing less on graphics and raw power, two of Nintendo’s three most recent consoles (the Wii U being an exception) have been wildly successful by offering players something genuinely different to what was already on offer. Xbox doesn’t do that, and when all the Xbox Series X has to offer is an increase in power and graphical fidelity, it’s no longer good enough for its games to look “great”; they need to look significantly better than those titles that are already available. The verdict from the trailer is that they simply don’t.
The Xbox Series X and Xbox One are the copyright of Microsoft. The Xbox Series X is due for release before the end of 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Barring a major shift in circumstances, which we may yet see if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t sorted out in the next few months, Xbox and PlayStation plan to launch new consoles before Christmas. They will replace this generation’s Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which were released in 2013, and will join the Nintendo Switch to form the “big three” gaming platforms heading into 2021 and beyond.
When I’m in a gaming mood I’m primarily a PC player. I find PC to be a more versatile platform, and the abundance of digital shops on PC means that sales and discounts are aplenty, which I absolutely feel makes PC an appealing choice even if the up-front costs can be higher than a console. But that’s a whole different article!
When Google Stadia launched towards the end of last year, I felt it had the potential to be disruptive to the gaming market in all kinds of good ways. To understand why, we need to step back in time.
For a brief moment just after the millennium, there were four companies in the home console market, and they were, broadly speaking, all trying to appeal to the same core audience of gamers. There was Sega, with the Dreamcast, Sony, with its PlayStation brand, Nintendo, and Microsoft, which launched its first Xbox console in 2001. This moment wasn’t to last, of course, as the Dreamcast would prove a failure forcing Sega out of the market altogether. Nintendo’s GameCube was also not a resounding success, and the lessons the company learned led to the creation of the Wii in 2006, and from that point on, Nintendo has been fishing in a different pond to the other two console brands.
So since the mid-2000s, when Nintendo decided to go in a completely different direction with the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation have been the two main brands in direct competition. Nintendo’s current offering, the Switch, is a very different platform from anything Microsoft and Sony have, being half-handheld and half-console, and has a very different hardware setup. As a result, many gamers (myself included) will have a primary platform for playing most games and a Nintendo for playing their titles. I’m currently in the early stages of building my island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons so stay tuned for my thoughts on that at some point!
The two main competitors, PlayStation and Xbox, have taken very different routes since 2013, and the console market is in danger, I feel, of becoming a monopoly. It needs something major to shake things up – hence my excitement at Stadia potentially doing so. Microsoft’s Xbox brand has been focused on being a “multimedia” brand instead of purely gaming, and its output reflects that. Microsoft has also seen a steady growth in the PC gaming market and has chosen to release some previously exclusive titles on PC as well – the most significant being Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is as close as Xbox has to a signature franchise. Only Halo 5 remains a console exclusive right now, and I have to say it feels like only a matter of time before that, too, is ported to PC. Microsoft have been working hard to turn the Xbox One into a multimedia centre – something people could have in their living rooms to watch television, use streaming services, and even do things like make video calls.
As a result of Xbox’s foray into the PC space and using their platform to promote things like video streaming as much as gaming, PlayStation has been the dominant force in this console generation. They’ve offered many more exclusive titles, and the PlayStation 4 has outsold the Xbox One by at least two-to-one, perhaps even more. While Xbox as a brand is still healthy and commercially viable, it doesn’t leave the overall state of the market feeling especially great, as competition between the two companies is necessary to keep quality high and for developers to keep pushing the boundaries.
Google Stadia is clearly not going to be the disruptive force I hoped for, at least not any time soon. Its minuscule userbase and tiny library of games has seen to that, though I hope Google will continue development as the core technology is interesting at least. And as far as I know, no one else is planning to get in on the home console market right now. There have been past attempts, like the Ouya and other android-based consoles, but none have been particularly successful. It took a company with the clout and financial resources of Microsoft in 2001 to break into the market for the first time as a newcomer, and if Google is unable to successfully enter the gaming space I can see that failure being offputting for anyone considering investing significant money into a new home console.
So we’re left with a two-plus-one situation in the home console space. PlayStation versus Xbox, with Nintendo off to one side largely doing its own thing. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be comparable in terms of their internal hardware, especially as both seem to be using AMD’s Zen chips and incorporating ray-tracing graphics, so the choice between systems will be more about marketing than technology. Xbox has already signalled that their multimedia and PC plans will continue into the new generation, and it was even suggested at one stage late last year that every Xbox Series X game will also be available on Xbox One for the first year or two of the new console’s life. This combination will, I feel, give the PlayStation 5 a distinct advantage.
So where do I stand? I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a dog in this fight any more. As someone who plays primarily on PC it’s less important to me. Later in the generation, when prices start to come down, I can perhaps see myself picking up a console, but it would only be if there was some must-play exclusive that didn’t make it to PC. And of the two, PlayStation seems most likely to offer something along those lines so it’s not impossible I’d pick up a PlayStation 5 in the next few years. It certainly won’t be at or near launch, though.
However, I’ve never really been a big PlayStation gamer. In the generations after the first PlayStation launched I owned a Nintendo 64, a Dreamcast, an Xbox, and then an Xbox 360. It wasn’t until much later when I picked up a second-hand PlayStation 3. By then I was less into gaming and I’ve only played a handful of PlayStation 3 and 4 titles over the last few years. This is purely subjective, but as someone who likes to play some games with a controller instead of keyboard and mouse, I find Xbox controllers more comfortable to use. The original Xbox controller from 2001 – known as the “duke” – is actually one of my favourites, despite the justifiable criticism it received at the time for its large size!
Looking in from the outside as someone who has no plans to purchase either of the new consoles imminently, what I hope is that both are successful for their parent companies and that both are going to be great platforms for gaming. I’d like to see a bigger stride this console generation than the last, particularly where graphics are concerned, but it seems unlikely. Many PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles don’t look much different from games released in the latter part of the previous generation, and gameplay and graphics in general have not advanced nearly as far over the last few years as they had in previous generations. Earlier console generations brought huge advancements over their predecessors. The Nintendo 64, for example, was an incredibly powerful machine compared to the Super Nintendo, which was itself streets ahead of the earlier NES. I remember in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was talk of genuine photorealism by 2010, 2015, or 2020. While some projects can come close to that, we aren’t there in a general sense. And to make a long story short, the fact that the next generation of consoles will be a progression or iteration on what is already available in terms of graphics and gameplay makes them less exciting to me personally.
What we will see are smaller quality-of-life improvements. Things like longer battery life in wireless peripherals like controllers, as well as a move from hard discs to solid-state drives will give console gamers something to appreciate. There might also be things like faster download speeds, quicker installation from optical discs – which are still going to be present – and support for 4K resolution and video playback. With most new televisions being 4K that makes a lot of sense.
Overall, the biggest issue that is currently facing Xbox and PlayStation is the pandemic. Both in terms of disruption to their manufacturing and logistics and the wider economic impact on consumer spending, the launches scheduled for later this year may yet be delayed, and if they aren’t, sales may not initially be as strong as they were in 2013 or 2005/06. The consoles themselves will be of some interest, but what I’m most interested to see is how new games plan to take advantage of some of the new hardware capabilities. Pushing the boundaries and creating games that are bigger, better, and more visually impressive than ever is something I’ll always be interested to see, even though I don’t really mind which brand or company “wins”.
All brands mentioned above are the copyright of their respective parent companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
At last night’s Game Awards, Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox brand, made the surprise announcement of their next-generation console. That the console exists wasn’t the surprise, of course; we’ve known another Xbox would come out next year for quite a while. But it was a shock to me to see it unveiled at the Game Awards.
I don’t mean to be too disrespectful, but the Game Awards are very much a second-tier event in the industry, definitely not on par with E3, and probably behind Europe’s biggest event Gamescom when it comes to the gaming calendar. While the event is somewhat unique – though practically every outlet and organisation in games media makes a list of their favourite titles of the year – it just isn’t quite on the same level as some others. Which makes it an unusual choice of venue to premiere a new console. Just in terms of raw numbers, the audience for the Game Awards is much lower than for something like E3, and with it being so close to Christmas a lot of people who don’t follow the games industry religiously have tuned out.
That’s not to say that unveiling the console at a big event like E3 would be the best idea, with so many other news stories coming out of that event you might be headline news for a day, only to be overshadowed the next day by another announcement. These kind of announcements are best suited to a dedicated event, where the brand can control all aspects of the presentation. At least in my opinion (as someone who did work for a time in games marketing, I should add) that seems like the best route to go down for something this significant.
As a result of announcing the device here, the immediate reaction hasn’t been one of triumph for the Xbox brand. Instead it’s been confused. At first I wasn’t sure whether the Xbox Series X was a new console, another Xbox One variant, or a different device entirely. And a significant part of that is down to the choice of name – one which is, frankly, crap.
Xbox has struggled with names since its second generation. And it was an understandably difficult conundrum for the brand to overcome. In 2005, the original Xbox came to the end of its life and was phased out. PlayStation, having launched its brand a whole generation ahead of Xbox, was already onto the PlayStation 2 – so logically, their next console would be the PlayStation 3. From Xbox’s point of view, having the Xbox 2 compete with the PlayStation 3 wouldn’t work. In the opinion of marketing professionals, they would surely have argued that running a “2” console against a “3” would look like it was a step behind, and would cost them sales, especially among consumers who didn’t know much about gaming. So the decision was made to name the new console something with a 3 – to match PlayStation 3. And as Xbox 360 essentially won that generation’s console war, it seems like it wasn’t a terrible name after all.
But after Xbox 360 came Xbox One, though that console’s rough launch can’t really be attributed to its odd name. Midway through this generation we’ve also seen the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X – one a lower end system, one a more advanced system. Not that you’d know the difference from the names. Xbox One X is already a complicated name, with no simple short form way to say it. PS3, PS4, PS5; those short nicknames just work well and roll off the tongue. XBX doesn’t, not that anyone’s ever called it that.
And so after the Xbox One X, we arrive at the Xbox Series X. I fear it risks making the mistake Nintendo made with the Wii and Wii U – those consoles’ names were so similar that a lot of people were confused as to what exactly a Wii U was. Was it a tablet? An accessory for the Wii? A handheld? That confusion among consumers – especially casual consumers who aren’t hardcore gamers and who don’t follow any gaming news – hurt Nintendo and contributed to Wii U’s underperformance. And Xbox Series X just sounds so similar to Xbox One X and Xbox One S that I fear they haven’t learned from Nintendo’s issues in 2012/13.
If I already own – or have just recently bought – an Xbox One X or Xbox One S, if I’ve even heard of Xbox Series X I’m going to be seriously wondering whether it’s something I need to buy. Is it a new console? Is it just another variant of what I’ve already got? A lot of people won’t know – and won’t take the time to find out, especially if PlayStation 5 comes in with slick marketing. Now that’s clearly a brand new console, and even if I’m not normally a PlayStation consumer I still know – instantly – that it’s their next generation machine.
I think Xbox had a couple of good naming options – one was simple: Xbox. Just plain Xbox. Everyone would know what it is, and that would be that. Alternatively, the name I really thought they would’ve gone with was Xbox Five. Why five, if it’s only the fourth generation Xbox? Because you’d number them like this: 1) Original Xbox, 2) Xbox 360, 3) Xbox One, 4) Xbox One X, 5) Xbox Five. Then they’d have the Xbox Five up against the PlayStation 5. There’d be no confusion as consumers would know both consoles represented the same generation.
Even while writing this article I had to go back and double-check that Xbox Series X was definitely, 100%, their next-generation offering. The confusing name is a potential problem – one that the brand is all too familiar with. Time will tell whether the choice of name will be damaging, and to be fair to Xbox they have a solid ten or eleven months to get the word out and get Xbox Series X firmly locked into the minds of consumers. But even if they can overcome the confusion with their current-gen offerings, let’s be honest – the name is still crap.
Xbox, Xbox Series X, Xbox One X, and other consoles mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Post edited (to correct an image alignment error) 23rd Nov. 2020.