Microsoft has officially delayed Halo Infinite, leaving the Xbox Series X without its flagship launch game. Given the muted response to the gameplay reveal, this is probably the right idea for 343 Industries, as they're only getting one shot at what is intended to be "the start of the next ten years for Halo." Better to release it right, rather than release it early.
Despite that, Xbox is forging ahead with a November release for Xbox Series X. That's not entirely surprising, as Xbox boss Phil Spencer previously said that Microsoft wasn't going to delay the console. "We'll go in eyes wide open on what we're trying to get done, but I don't think we would hold the launch of the platform for any individual game," Spencer noted back in April.
Unfortunately, what that means is that the Xbox Series X, and the still unrevealed Xbox Series S, will lack a strong anchor for release. In Halo's place, Microsoft has to rely on multiplatform third-party titles like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, on top of smaller releases like The Medium and Scorn. That's not exactly a winning hand.
The thing is, though, Sony doesn't really have one either. Of all the games from the State of Play showcase, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the only one confirmed for Holiday 2020. And despite my own personal excitement at the release, it's really only an upgraded, expanded iteration of an existing PlayStation 4 game. Otherwise, Sony Interactive Entertainment is leaning heavily on Godfall, and while it might be a fine game, I'm not seeing a ton of excitement for it. This leaves both consoles with relatively meager launch lineups and what will likely be very high price tags.
This is nothing new, of course. The Nintendo Switch launch line-up subsisted entirely on the quality and prestige of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The PlayStation 4 featured a bunch of improved third-party releases and Killzone: Shadow Fall, a game I feel everyone has largely forgotten. The Xbox One was only slightly better, with Forza Motorsport 5, Killer Instinct, and Ryse: Son of Rome taking the first-party slots. Looking back over the launch slates of the 3DS, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, I found the strongest feeling I could come up with was "meh." It's always maybe one jaw-dropper alongside third-party ports and some experimental titles to sell you on new console features.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X are dealing with unique circumstances in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. While spending on games was up for the first half of 2020, we don't know what the holiday season is actually going to look like this year, given job losses and other economic hardships. It's hard to justify spending $500 or more if you're not certain if you'll be working in the next month or next quarter. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 aren't ready for this holiday season, and that was before you factored in the pandemic.
Ultimately, Xbox Series X makes the better case of the two because it's betting so heavily on Xbox Game Pass, Smart Delivery, and strong backward compatibility. The question remains whether that's enough for customers this holiday season, given those potentially high price tags. In terms of selling a new box, is it better to bet on heavy bells-and-whistles, or a smoother transition for the consumer and their existing game library? Microsoft can potentially blunt the sticker shock of the Series X with the Series S, but we don't know when that console is coming or even how much cheaper it'll be. It's hard to know how to prepare to sell a new console in 2020.
I'm probably going to end up buying both consoles, but that's because I need to cover them for work, and I'm that bleeding edge-type consumer. I need to have the latest tech I can afford in my arsenal, even if in reality, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will sit on my entertainment stand as I play the multiplatform games on PC.
I'm an outlier, though. Truthfully, there's no real need for either platform in the hellscape that is 2020, meaning players will have to wait until 2021 for both to find their fighting stance and start throwing some real punches.