We got our first look at the Xbox Series X's games earlier today, and as first salvos go, this one was pretty tame. There were few surprises in Microsoft's initial rollout, with most of the focus being put on Assassin's Creed Valhalla.
Xbox Marketing head Aaron Greenberg and Microsoft Game Studios leader Matt Booty set expectations early by reminding everyone that first-party exclusives wouldn't be shown until July. That necessarily limited the scope of the presentation. On the other hand, most known heavy third-party hitters stayed away as well, with no sign of anticipated releases like Elden Ring.
Instead, we mostly saw second-tier publishers like Deep Silver amid the extended run of trailers, with only very brief glimpses of anticipated releases like Madden 21.
We're Still Living in a Post-Graphics World
A few years ago, I argued that graphics are now less important than ever. Witness the success of Nintendo Switch, which is less powerful than either the PS4 or Xbox One, but is still one of the hottest consoles around. Last year's breakout hit was Untitled Goose Game: an indie game that probably could have run on the Xbox 360.
That trend continued with today's Inside Xbox presentation, in which many of the games leaned far more on style than raw graphical fidelity. Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines 2, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Call of the Sea all looked lovely, but no one would have mistaken them for gaming's state of the art. It speaks to how muddy the waters are getting between generations as Microsoft tries to sell everyone on upgrading to a new console.
The exception, of course, was Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which stands to be an early showcase for next-gen power. And speaking of Assassin's Creed Valhalla...
We Sure Didn't Get to See Much of Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Much was made of Assassin's Creed Valhalla being shown for the first time on Xbox Series X, but we got... kind of nothing? As USgamer alum Tom Orry wrote in Slack during the presentation, "Microsoft really playing fast and loose with the term 'gameplay.'"
Assassin's Creed fans tuning in for the much-hyped gameplay reveal got a new in-engine trailer in 4K, a few flashes of the main characters, and a quick interview. Then it was on to an extended conversation about Dirt 5, leaving everyone to look around and ask, "Wait, was that it?"
No doubt we'll be seeing plenty of Assassin's Creed Valhalla in the coming months, but as next-gen reveals for major franchises go, this one was kind of a dud.
We're About as Excited for the Xbox Series X as We Were Before
It's hard to say what Microsoft wanted to accomplish with its first big gameplay showcase. It mostly played to expectations, trickling out a few lower-tier games, as well as expected biggies like Madden 21 or Assassin's Creed Valhalla. It's telling that Dirt 5, of all games, seemed to get the most air time of them all.
If the intention was to get people hyped for the Xbox Series X, this showcase probably didn't accomplish that. It felt like one more tick on the marketing plan; a conscious pivot in which Microsoft said, "Okay, we're ready to talk about games."
Of course, one can only imagine how much havoc the pandemic is playing with Microsoft's rollout plan. With the big E3 blowout falling apart, Xbox has no doubt had to scramble to get developers on board for a new presentation. The ad hoc nature of the event was on full display with the highly variable video quality, and Greenberg literally streaming from his kitchen.
It was one more reminder among many of what an unprecedented year it's been, and that we're probably in for one of the strangest next-gen launch cycles in history.
So there you have it: we've now seen some Xbox Series X gameplay. We can now start looking ahead to July, where Microsoft has already promised to bring out the big guns, including Halo Infinite. The Xbox Series X will be out this fall... probably. Who even knows anymore? I'm sure Microsoft is playing it by ear just like the rest of us.
In the meantime, the ball is in Sony's court. Show us what you've got, PlayStation 5.