It is quite easy to say that Microsoft – over the last five years – hasn’t had the easiest road in the gaming industry. From their introduction to the Xbox One to their problems getting games to run optimally, Microsoft has had quite the bumpy road to get where they are now. To make an allegory, it’s like the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team’s mantra for the last few seasons: “Trust the Process.” And for those that trusted the process, the dividends are coming and they are plentiful.
To say that Microsoft’s acquisitions don’t signal a potentially seismic shift in the industry could be considered quite short-sighted. Add on the critical success of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and the announcement that Xbox Game Pass will feature every first-party title from the day of the game’s launch, Phil Spencer’s quote from The Game Awards holds true: “We had a pretty good year. We could do better – but we had a pretty good year.” Let’s take a look back at the past year for Xbox:
Handicapped? More Like HANDI-FREAKING-CAPABLE:
This past May saw the Xbox brand introduce the world to the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Retailing at $99 and featuring a D-Pad and two large programmable pads, the Adaptive Controller works by plugging in various peripherals via 19 3.5mm ports and 2 USB 2.0 jacks. The critical reception to the device has been beyond positive, with various charities and organizations catering to disabled persons singing the praises of the device, as well as a swath of mainstream attention – even making TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2018” list. Designer Chris Kujawski hopes the peripheral becomes standard, stating that he hopes the controller “becomes a catalyst for inclusiveness in the gaming industry.”
Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Backward Compatibility Just Keep Getting Better:
In January, the announcement was made that all Microsoft first-party games will be coming to the service at the same time that they launch at retail, giving subscribers to the service the ability to try the games out for the low price of $9.99 per month. This certainly helped games like Sea of Thieves and State of Decay, which both saw ~2 million players each within the first few weeks of launch. Forza Horizon 4 also made its way to the service and Crackdown 3 and Halo Infinite should be making its way to the service. With over 200 games across the entire Xbox library (Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One) available on Game Pass, it’s become more and more of a disruptive service, even pushing Sony to bolster their PlayStation Now service with the ability to download PS4 and PS2 games to your PlayStation 4 (at least if you believe in speculation.)
Xbox Backward Compatibility saw a massive coup with Red Dead Redemption getting Xbox One X Enhancements, two years after the game was available for backward compatibility, with Digital Foundry, in their analysis, stating that the title on Xbox One X is the definitive version of the game, looking and running as close to what you would expect a hypothetical PC version of the game would be. The full Final Fantasy XIII series also received One X Enhancements, as well as Fight Night Champion, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 HD and the full Crysis series coming to the service – among others, Xbox Backward Compatibility saw an additional one hundred and five games come to the service in 2018, bringing the total to five hundred and fifty-five titles.
The Xbox One X is the TRUTH:
Don’t be mistaken, the Xbox One X isn’t even remotely close to a PC with a GTX 1080TI or an RTX 2080. However, it is the most powerful gaming console of its time, and multiple games proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Digital Foundry recently stated that Red Dead Redemption 2 “looks and plays best on Xbox One X,” as I’ve corroborated in my review of the title. But there are other games that benefit from this improvement, regardless of the game being X enhanced or not. Forza Horizon 4 is an ambitiously gorgeous game, from the season changes to the little details emphasized in the houses that you pass by. Even the beautiful landscapes that encompass the Horizon Festival this time around are breathtaking. Dark Souls Remastered locks to 60fps on the One X, Red Dead Redemption runs at native 4K – 9x the original pixel count – and 16x anisotropic filtering, making the game look better than it did on the 360. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also best on the One X, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter plays at double its original frame rate. Even an OG Xbox title, SSX 3 benefits from the Xbox One X enhancements that it received.
The Xbox One X and its various bundles are now priced at the same price as the PlayStation 4 Pro – $399.99 – and is now an affordable way to get the best performance for all of your multiplatform titles.
Exclusives are Still at a Premium…FOR NOW:
Microsoft’s biggest Xbox problem this generation was always the lack of exclusive titles that they have on the console – especially single-player titles. During E3 2018 and XO18 earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled a gaggle of studios that they have acquired: Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, Obsidian, and inXile Entertainment. They also opened up a new studio – The Initiative, which is headed up by Darrell Gallagher, formerly of Crystal Dynamics. The chances of us seeing games out of these studios release in 2019 could be considered slim, however, this is more of a move for the future, as Microsoft has always been good at (see Xbox Live in 2005 as an example of this.)
Speaking of the Future…
It depends on who you ask. Microsoft loyalists have many things to look forward to in 2019. Crackdown 3 and Gears of War 5 (the latter being a projected release in 2019,) as well as new games added to Game Pass and Backwards Compatibility – with some being Xbox One X Enhanced. Detractors will continuously cite the lack of meaningful exclusive titles, perhaps ad nauseam. However, I’m optimistic that the Xbox division will continue to stay the course in terms of the choices they’re making. I also hope they make an effort to make good on their commitment to the PC platform, continuing initiatives such as Xbox Play Anywhere and fixing the Microsoft Store as a whole. Worrying about the number of exclusives on the platform will undoubtedly lead to disappointment. Temper your expectations a little. The Xbox ecosystem heading into 2019 is full of innovation, wonder, and positivity. I, for one, am very excited to see what Microsoft brings to the table in 2019 for all the Xbox fans.