launch

Xbox: The Comeback Kid?

Does the delay of Halo Infinite sink Microsoft? Simple answer: no, not even close. That’s not to say the sailing ahead won’t be rough. Xbox is in this for the long haul. They have the superior system in terms of raw power. They have GamePass and XCloud and full backwards compatibility and smart delivery. And the pro-consumer message is only strengthened by delaying Halo Infinite. They want to do their fans right and the franchise justice. But where do they go from here? I have some theories and suggestions.

Price: it’s not a secret Sony is throwing money at 3rd party developers for exclusivities: be it special content (a la Spiderman in Avengers) or timed exclusives (Final Fantasy XVI). And if all the leaks I’ve heard are true, they need it. The PS5 is struggling with true 4K resolution. It’s having difficulty with 60fps. They need the exclusive deals, alongside their magnificent 1st party games, to give them an edge over the sheer power of the Xbox Series X. And, I think it will work in the short term given their sheer slice of the market pie. They have the bigger base and the momentum. They also have Spiderman: Miles (DLC? Expansion?)

How does Xbox counter? With affordability. First, smart delivery means next gen upgrades are free. That’s huge. Sony would rather continue the model of constant remasters (like Spiderman).

Second, is offer various models at affordable price points. That’s where the Xbox Series S factors in. If they can release that at $200-$250 and drop the Xbox Series X in at $400, it would be a mega bomb. Especially if the leak is true that PS5 is at $500 and their all digital is coming in at $400. That’s a massive price advantage that will make waves over the holiday season.

Third, is Xbox Live. I have a sneaking suspicion it will go free, or be bundled into the GamePass. Either way, I don’t see Xbox having two subscription fees at the launch of their new system. And with the positive outpouring of support for Halo multiplayer being free, it’s the kind of pro-consumer move that can become a deciding element at the register.

Studios: having the most powerful and most affordable next generation hardware sounds great on paper, but ultimately, it will come down to the games. I love what Xbox is doing in the long run with titles like Avowed and Fable. I think we have a lot to look forward to, and I do believe that Halo Infinite will also be a tremendous success. But my gut tells me the smart move is to keep enlisting talent, keep expanding the portfolio, and to continue to acquire studios, at the right price. Here’s a few that might make sense:

Bloober Team, Ebb Software, & Asobo Studios. These three studios make the most sense to purchase. Makers of the Medium, Scorn, and Flight Simulator, they would be smart to invest in studios on the verge of breaking out. With the right investment of time and money, they would provide the right kind of diversity and originality the Xbox portfolio needs.

Larin Studios. No one talks about this, but to me, it seems like a perfect fit. It would give the Xbox Series X a day one exclusive RPG: Baulder’s Gate 3. The studio has a proven track record, many labeling them a modern day BioWare, and would further strengthen RPGs in the Xbox portfolio.

People Can Fly: no longer owned by Epic, the makers of BulletStorm would be a great fit for creating original, fun FPS for the Xbox portfolio.

Remedy: they are already working on the single player portion for CrossFireX, and they made the cult classic Alan Wake for the Xbox 360, not to mention game of the year in 2019: Control. They are original, out of the box creators who specialize in 3rd person thrillers. The fit couldn’t make more sense.

WB Games: I love everything about this. The talent across the studios is legends. Imagine Netherrealms working on Mortal Kombat, Injustice, and Killer Instinct. Rocksteady getting the green light for Superman and Justice League. Xbox signing exclusive rights to DC, LOTR, Harry Potter and TMNT. It would be the biggest purchase in gaming history. Just the kind of groundbreaking move Xbox needs to drive their brand to the top.

Bungie: does Bungie come home? One of the key factors in their original departure was Bungie wanted to create a game as a platform. GamePass is perfect for that. Unlike with Activision, they left Xbox on good terms. A return would be well received. They could also assist 343 when/if needed.

CD Projekt Red: Ok, this would be the hard-nosed business maneuver. Sure, it makes sense. They’re my favorite studio. They make incredible games. If you want to be ruthless, you make CyberPunk 2077 a first party exclusive and call it a day. But I wouldn’t be for that. I would, however; be for the acquisition. The next Witcher a 1st party exclusive? Sign me up.

3rd Party Exclusives: ok, so who knows if any of the above will happen. If Xbox is smart, they are also looking into the possibility of third party exclusives. Maybe A Total War: Halo game by Sega? Not to mention bringing over Persona 5 and it’s expansion. They could revive Scalebound…and maybe snag the Bayonette trilogy and Nier as a bonus. What if Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 become exclusives? Makes sense given the history they have with Xbox. Maybe the Mass Effect Trilogy remaster could be an exclusive upgrade? I think making Elder Ring an exclusive would be a good move, especially if it could make the launch window.

I’m not a fan of timed exclusives. I’m also not a fan of any one company having a monopoly. I am supportive of all the major systems mainly because I am a fan of great games. I don’t want Xbox to fail. Competition breeds quality and innovation. Here’s hoping we are on the verge of the best generation of gaming ever. Only time will tell.

Halo Infinite: Death or Revival?

After taking a couple of weeks to allow the gameplay reveal of Halo Infinite to simmer in my thoughts, I confidentially can say I’m excited about what I have observed. However, not without a certain degree of reservations. Expectations are sky high, and the internet is ablaze with memes of Craig the Brute, but the real question is where does the flagship title for the next generation of Xbox go from here?

In truth, the next generation of Xbox is more GamePass than it is Series X. And Halo becoming a live service, or a platform that will be continually updated over a ten year period, fits in with a GamePass oriented future. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. The lore of Halo is rich and expansive, and the fact that Infinite begins on Zeta Halo delights my inner child to no end.

My main concern here is the rating: please let it be Mature as opposed to Teen. Considering this is the home of the palace of pain, Mendicant Bias, and the Primordial, not to mention a simultaneous war against the Banished and Cortana-led Prometheans (honestly, I think she’s been corrupted by the Flood). Will the precursors return? Will the flood invade from the far reaches of space? What of Atriox? So yeah, this is some rich soil for story to be grown over a prolonged period of time.

I adored the gameplay they showed off on July 23. I really did. It felt far more like Halo than Halo 4 or 5. I dig the grappling hook and the drop shield. I also thought the interaction between the pilot and Master Chief was well crafted. The AI appeared solid, and this Escharum figure got my blood pumping. Halo Infinite is hitting the right notes so far in regards to story and gameplay, two of my key ingredients in developing a good game. It’s a solid foundation to build on.

Also, the multiplayer going free-to-play doesn’t bother me. I’m hearing rumors of a Battle Royale mode being added, and as long as they include classic modes the series is famous for, this should fit in just fine. Going free should, in theory, create the largest player base in the history of Halo. Will there be Mircotransactions? Possibly. I saw a rumor of a Battle Pass and I’m not overly worried about it. I’ve also heard if you buy the physical copy of the game you won’t have to buy a battle pass. While this is unclear, a 120FPS multiplayer Halo packed with all the goodies the series is known for, plus a battle royale mode and the largest player base in history, leaves me satisfied for now.

Last bit of the good feels: knowing story expansions will be free also makes me happy. Not to mention this is a OPEN WORLD Halo game with RPG elements. Yes, please. New weapons? Check. Will there be new vehicles? Dual wielding? Assassinations? Space combat? Different worlds to explore? An entire ring to transverse? The musical score is already shaping up nicely. Honestly, I feel the negativity online towards this game thus far has been misplaced to a large degree. Plus, give me more Craig! And on a side note, I’ve heard rumblings that Forge is going to be epic.

Ok, now on to the negative. The graphics, while colorful and definitely a call back to CE, were still flat. There was no ray tracing (and apparently this will be an add-on? Needs to be day one). I did see some improvement between the gameplay reveal and the trailer they released right after. Still, a lot of work needs to be done. And the sound from the weapons also left me underwhelmed. My gut feeling is a lot of this will be fixed over time after the game is released. I think this is a mistake. This title should be a graphical powerhouse. It doesn’t have to wow in the “realism” factor, but it needs to be the best looking Halo ever, while keeping in line with the series art style. I feel like I’d be beating a dead horse if I continue on this line of thought, but seriously, 343, you have a $500 million budget. Improve the visuals.

Losing two legacy weapons, the magnum and shotgun, is unacceptable. I like the idea of customizing weapons and introducing new variants, but don’t remove legacy weapons. They are staples of the franchise. Include them.

The gameplay area they decided to present, underwhelmed. It felt lackluster when taken in the context of: here’s the next evolution of the biggest franchise on Xbox. The pop-ins were concerning. The fact that this was the most “stable” demo the game has thus far is concerning. Will it be released with bugs? Memories of the MCC launch come to the forefront of my mind. Will this launch be drenched with glitches and broken elements? Will the game be delayed?

Overall, I tend to lean more on the positive side of things. I am optimistic regarding Halo Infinite. I have faith that 343 is doing all in its power to do the series justice. Microsoft has essentially granted them a blank check, giving them all the financial backing they need to be a success. I would love to see destructible environments, the ability to create missions in Forge, and a more in-depth melee system. I’m also still waiting for the day I can take out an enemy base, jump into a starship, fly into orbit, engage in space combat, land on an enemy ship, blow up the enemy ship, and head back down to the enemy base where I get shot down and parachute onto an enemy tank in the middle of a massive ground conflict. Am I dreaming? Maybe. But isn’t that what next-gen console launches are supposed to do? To cause you to dream about the possibilities? To imagine the limits that will be pushed? Here’s hoping that Halo Infinite is everything it needs to be and should be.