Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is poised to deliver this holiday season in style. In fact, we can say that this is the strongest position Microsoft has held since the glory days of the Xbox 360 generation.
Not only will Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S owners have the opportunity to enjoy two big exclusives in the race for Christmas – Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite – Sony’s PS5 is suddenly deprived of original releases, now that Horizon: Forbidden West dropped to February 25, 2022.
It’s a twist on how the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles came to life in November 2020, with Sony offering a slew of top-notch exclusive games such as Demon’s Souls, Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales and Sackboy: The Big Adventure.
Microsoft, meanwhile, felt the pain of Halo Infinite missing its planned release date, and had to make do with Xbox Game Pass releases and enhanced versions of its existing title library.
Sony continued to tinker with Microsoft throughout the year with more exclusive games like Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, which used the PS5’s strengths to great effect. But since then, the good ship Sony has encountered more turbulent waters.
The lack of announcements about what’s to come for the PS5 in the future, as well as the decision to release titles that were previously considered exclusive to PlayStation 5 on PS4, such as Gran Turismo 7, have not been met with the warmest of receptions.
The Horizon: Forbidden West delay almost felt like a formality too, after months of radio silence.
Xbox Game Pass
Microsoft has been gaining momentum since its excellent Xbox Bethesda Showcase event at E3 2021 in June. Not only does its subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, continue to downgrade Sony’s PS Now in terms of value and overall appeal, but we’re now starting to see quality, not just quantity.
In July, gamers received Microsoft Flight Simulator, a game that was once restricted to high-end PCs but is now capable of running on an Xbox Series S.
August saw the arrival of Psychonauts 2, an inventive platform game that received widespread critical acclaim; and in November, fans can step on the gas in Forza Horizon 5, a game that I think few would say has the potential to be nominee of the year for many.
The announcement of Xbox Cloud Gaming coming to Xbox One is also significant. Soon, Microsoft’s next-gen console owners will be able to stream Xbox Series X titles at 1080p / 60fps, and play Gen 9 titles that simply wouldn’t run on older hardware.
It’s an unprecedented shift and one that is in keeping with Microsoft’s consumer-friendly approach this generation.
And then there’s Halo Infinite. Delaying the game by more than a year was undoubtedly a risk, a gamble even – but it’s a decision I don’t think the old guard at Microsoft would have had the vision, or stomach, to make.
The company could never have known that Sony would be without a big hitter this holiday, of course, but that continues to represent a shift in commitment from the Xbox team that has been around since the disastrous launch of Xbox One.
And Halo Infinite’s delay has paid dividends, at least for now. Even though the development was similar to a rollercoaster, with regular peaks and troughs, the mood around the game changed drastically.