No one seemed to really know if they should be excited going into this morning's Xbox Games Showcase. Xbox has done its best to push Xbox Series X with a steady drumbeat of reveals, but when its third-party stream fell flat, PlayStation was able to seize the momentum. Well, it may be too early to say that the momentum is back on Xbox's side, but today's showcase was a step in the right direction, even if some of its reveals didn't hit quite as hard as they should have.
Coming off a terribly drab third-party showcase in which its main event, Assassin's Creed Valhalla failed to even show any gameplay, the pressure was on for Xbox to come out strong with its first-party offerings. It responded with a slew of both new and old games, among them Halo Infinite, Fable, Psychonauts 2, Everwild, and a brand-new Obsidian RPG. There were few details, nor even release dates, but it did show that Xbox Series X would indeed have more games this time around, even if some of those games are still quite far off.
Xbox set the stage with its much-anticipated Halo Infinite gameplay reveal, which I argued was a "critical moment" for the future of the series. Up to this point, 343 Industries had shown almost nothing of Halo Infinite, and with whispers of development difficulties throughout the games industry, it was reasonable to worry about whether it would be the revival the series needed.
Happily, 343 Industries allayed those concerns almost immediately, revealing what can best be described as a mix between the original Halo: Combat Evolved and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The opening is clearly at pains to evoke one of the iconic areas of the original Halo game, but in a way that feels bigger than basically anything that's come before it. The idea of driving a Warthog across a vast open-world has always been there, tantalizing with the possibilities. Now it's real.
Halo Infinite received a warm reception on Twitter and elsewhere, which surely must have Xbox and 343 Industries feeling relieved. Then again...
Okay, it's obvious that Halo Infinite is going for a look that evokes nostalgia while also focusing on scope over raw graphical fidelity. This screenshot, though? This screenshot is rough. I hope Halo Infinite manages to continue to look much better in motion.
The rest of the show was long on CG trailers and short on meaningful details and release dates, but otherwise did its part to stir excitement. Avowed, Everwild, and Fable are all very strong looking first-party exclusives—certainly stronger than anything that ever came out on Xbox One. We're a long way from the days when Xbox was trying to pass off Ryse: Son of Rome as a killer launch title.
Of them, I actually think Avowed has the potential to be the real breakout star of the bunch. The Outer Worlds was a fundamentally conservative RPG, but it nevertheless managed to generate a good deal of good will for Obsidian. It's a sentiment that can be summed up in the words of a colleague of mine: "I hope Avowed can do for Skyrim what The Outer Worlds did for Fallout 3."
With Skyrim being maybe the most popular RPG of all time, there's a tremendous appetite for a new first-person fantasy RPG set in a sprawling open-world. If Avowed is able to be that RPG, then Xbox Series X will instantly have one of the biggest new franchises of the generation—bigger, perhaps, than anything PlayStation can bring to bear. There are already hopeful signs on this front: Avowed is set in the world of Pillars of Eternity, which is maybe the most underappreciated RPG of the past five years.
In the end, the only real misstep by Xbox was the reveal of Playground Games's Fable reboot, which consisted of an extremely quick CG trailer and a logo reveal... and almost nothing else. With Fable having been established to be in development more than two years ago, a 10 second teaser in the vein of Elder Scrolls 6 wasn't going to cut it. The reveal passed over like a sigh, and then the event was done.
One of the common sentiments I've seen in the wake of today's showcase is that people don't really trust Xbox right now. To put it mildly, the Xbox One generation was a disaster: a seven-year period in which Xbox's first-party franchises declined precipitously, and it found itself in third place behind Sony and Nintendo. With 343 Industries having a mixed track record at best, and the rest of the newly-acquired Xbox Games Studios lineup still getting settled, fans will naturally remain skeptical until Xbox truly shows the goods. By contrast, PlayStation has a generation's worth of accrued goodwill, and that showed in the positive response to a secretly underwhelming showcase.
Still, it was a good showcase for Xbox, which painted the picture of Xbox Series X as a console with a lot of appealing first-party exclusives backed by an extremely strong service in Xbox Game Pass. I've said that 2020 will be the year that all of the big video game promises of the past decade would finally come to pass, and Xbox Series X is a big part of that. It's easy to be dimissive now, when Xbox is still picking up the pieces from the Xbox One, but this showcase proved that Xbox is at least ready to compete this time around.
Now we just need to know how much it's going to cost to buy in.