I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: I spent more time playing my Xbox One over the holidays than any other console. In fact, I don't think I even so much as turned on my Switch.
The arrival of The Witcher 3's Xbox One X patch was enough to push me back into CD Projekt Red's sprawling RPG; and this time, it actually stuck. I wound up spending the better part of my week off ogling the absolutely gorgeous environments as I chewed through sidequest after sidequest. Graphics may not mean what they used to, but they sure help.
When I wasn't playing The Witcher 3, I was playing a little game called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. While not exactly up to par with the PC version, at least had the benefit of being easily accessible when I needed a break from slaying Drowners and Grave Hags.
So in a sense, Microsoft's big gambit for 2017 worked: The Xbox One X's upgrades and "exclusives" were enough to get me playing their console again. Maybe not enough to get me to drop $500 on a mid-generation upgrade, but enough.
But will that be enough to close the interest gap Xbox is suffering against the Switch and the PlayStation 4? Maybe, but Microsoft has some work to do first.
The Xbox One Needs Better Exclusives
Microsoft's failure to develop new IPs has been well-catalogued by now. Where Sony and Nintendo have each managed to develop successful new franchises, Microsoft has continued to ride the diminishing returns generated by Halo, Gears of War, and Forza. They even went so far as to try and revive Halo Wars.
Xbox One apologists could point to its strong third-party and indie offerings; but even in that space, Sony has a decided advantage thanks to its connections to Japan. Two of 2017's biggest games—Nier: Automata and Persona 5—never made it to the Xbox One. In fact, unless you count PUBG, not one Xbox One console exclusive made it into our 20 Best Games of 2017.
That trend is unlikely to shift in 2018 given the disparity between the install bases for the PS4 and Xbox One, but there are ways that Microsoft can continue to chip away at Sony's built-in advantage. They can start by taking a page from Naughty Dog and putting Coalition on a new IP rather than continuing to churn out Gears of War sequels. They should also continue to lean on the ease with which PC games can be ported to Xbox One, which has allowed them to steal away the likes of PUBG and Path of Exile.
One way or another, Microsoft will need to step up their game heading into the back half of the generation. The Xbox One X was a positive step forward. Now it needs some games.
Forza Horizon Japan
We're back to Forza Horizon for 2018, and there are rumors abound that it will be shifting to Japan. Mike and I agree: This would be amazing. Aside from being a beautiful country with a distinct aesthetic, Japan has a rich history with auto-racing. Who wouldn't want to go all Tokyo Drift in an open-world Japan featuring Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, and bullet trains?
More broadly, Forza in general is probably the best thing Microsoft has going for it at this point. Every Forza game is a technical showpiece for Microsoft, and the Forza Horizon games in particular shine with their emphasis on open-world racing. Forza Horizon on the Xbox One X will no doubt be one of the best-looking games of the generation. And a Forza Horizon set in Japan would be that much better.
More Kinect Games
What's that you say? Kinect is dead and buried to the point that Microsoft isn't even producing the adapter anymore? Well nevermind then.
No New VR Headset in 2018 (That Goes for the HoloLens, Too)
Microsoft has been teasing the potential of the HoloLens on the Xbox One for ages now. Rumors that a VR headset is on the way to the Xbox One have been rampant for years as well. Here's a nickel's worth of free advice for Microsoft: Don't bother with expensive peripherals in 2018. You've got bigger fish to fry.
Just look at the PlayStation VR. Sony's headset isn't what you'd call a failure, but Sony has a number of marked advantages over Microsoft, among them a rich history of cutting edge hardware development and a much larger install base. And even with all that, PSVR sales have been just okay.
Two years removed from the supposed Year of VR, it's apparent that the technology is still in its infancy. For every genuinely amazing VR experience, there are a dozen or more half-baked tech demos. Worse, with the emergence of Pokemon Go, investment is starting to dry up. At least year's GamesBeat conference, Epic's Tim Sweeney stood on a stage and practically begged developers not to give up on VR.
In light of all this uncertainty, Microsoft would be well-served to hold their fire and let the AR and VR landscape settle a bit. If the HoloLens (or a VR headset) is a major centerpiece during E3, I will be immensely disappointed. There are so many more interesting places they could be putting their money.
More Consistent 4K and HDR Standards for Xbox One X
To wrap it all up, I think my biggest wish from Microsoft—and developers in general—would be more consistent standards for 4K and HDR on the Xbox One X. As evidenced by Microsoft's own list, the standards are all over the place, with some games supporting "true" 4K, some only supporting HDR and frame rate increases, and some sticking to upscaled "checkerboard" rendering. Assassin's Creed Origins actually looked markedly worse after its Xbox One X enhancements arrived.
Even games that ostensibly have the total package can vary wildly. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War looks amazing on the Xbox One X, but Madden NFL tends to look way too dark. Some games like Forza Horizon 3 have very useful HDR optimization tools, but others force you to fiddle with some unhelpful gamma sliders. It's all just a little bit messy.
Hopefully this will all change as developers adjust and begin building their games with the capabilities of the Xbox One X in mind. But in the short-term, the "Xbox One X Enhanced" tag is at best a crapshoot. If Microsoft wants all those teraflops to actually mean something, they will have to push for more consistent standards in 2018.