Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as game music, recent movies, and more.
The Xbox One X, for all intents and purposes, is the most powerful console on the market right now. As Microsoft hopes to lead potential buyers to believe, it's an easy-to-use alternative to PCs, without all the bells and whistles and headaches that are inherent to PCs. The Xbox One X is leaning towards a PC-console hybrid of sorts.
The only problem with the Xbox One X is the most glaring one: there's no dang games. At least not of the console selling, exclusive variety.
Of course, that's really hyperbole. There are games for it that have yet to grace other consoles. Halo, Forza, and Gears of War are a few series that remain in Microsoft's clutches. Other miscellaneous exclusives, like Sunset Overdrive and ReCore, have passed the console by as well. Noted indies and smaller scale titles like Cuphead and Ori and the Blind Forest have found success on the platform too.
Yet compared to the PlayStation 4, a console that released many, many more console exclusives this year, the Xbox One can't help but look empty in comparison. 2017 alone has seen the releases of Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Even niche titles like Danganronpa V3 and Project Diva: Future Tone, or games such as Nier: Automata that straddle PlayStation 4 and PC. Just in the year 2017, PlayStation 4 feels like it's bursting with exclusives. Meanwhile, the Xbox One almost feels like it passed its peak a long time ago with Gears of War 4 and Halo 5—arguably the biggest exclusives possible for the console.
Even then, those were exclusives bent on nostalgia, on the promise of the Xbox One heading back into Microsoft's glory days with the original Xbox and later the console king: the Xbox 360. Instead, both games sold modestly; they performed critically well, but neither were enough to be console movers on their own. Microsoft knows that Xbox isn't top dog anymore. Maybe after the lack of huge success with those titles, Microsoft is trying something different: making games available to as many people as possible. To hell with exclusives. Microsoft's testing an alternate path.
To account for that, Microsoft has been spearheading accessibility with their "Play Anywhere" program. If a player buys a game either on the Xbox Store or on the Windows 10 store, they'll be able to play the game on either platform seamlessly, even carrying over their save. (Unfortunately for me, Windows 10 decided to gobble up my Cuphead save, R.I.P.) Joining the Play Anywhere party is also the Xbox One's backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games (and now Xbox games too). Slowly but surely, the library's been filling up with well-regarded older games and ones that feel almost negligible. Overall, Microsoft's shaping the Xbox One up to be the type of alternative console that players keep hooked up until the end of time. A place for all their games to live.
The course correct will definitely need time to find its footing though. Players still complain about the lack of Xbox-specific exclusives, especially now that most Xbox-exclusive games are cross-compatible with PC. The Xbox One in general is still lagging behind its competitors: the PlayStation 4 with 63.3 million sold (as of June 30th, 2017); the Nintendo Switch with 7.63 million units in its first year so far; compared to the approximated 31 million for the Xbox One.
The Xbox One X remains the most powerful of them all though. It's releasing tomorrow, 4K capabilities in tow. Games like Assassin's Creed: Origins and Forza Motorsport 7 stand to gain the most from the "Ultra HD" enhancements. Others, like Rise of the Tomb Raider, get crisper textures and the like that will stun the naked eye. Despite how good most games look, some are still capped at 30 frames-per-second. For some players, like PC enthusiasts, that's a dealbreaker.
That's where the Xbox One X falls, as a weird sort of in-between premium console. As Microsoft has reiterated countless times, the Xbox One X is very much that: a pure premium console. It's not something to replace existing Xbox Ones out in the wild. It's set to make most games look better, but at the cost of giving players exclusive experiences to play through. (Though some may argue the improved visuals of games are exclusive and unique to Xbox now, even against Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro.)
For the average consumer who cares about such fidelity and might want an Xbox One X, it wouldn't be outlandish to assume that they may already have a fully capable PC at the ready, hooked up to their 4K television at some capacity. The Xbox One X is for the players who fall in-between: the not-PC enthusiasts, but the ones who want the most bang for their buck in terms of those crisp graphics, baby. The Xbox One X provides the best they can get on any sort of console, provided they have the television outfitted for it. And yet, that subset of people is hard to imagine on a grand scale. As if the bulk of consoles sold this holiday season will be confused family members buying Xbox Ones for children.
But heck, I'm probably wrong. The Xbox One X is already the fastest pre-ordered Xbox in history. The folks who want it seem to really want it. As for me, I think I'm fine with my Xbox One S for now. Maybe I'll finally dive into Assassin's Creed: Origins over the coming weeks to see how much of a difference HDR makes alone.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
Even if the darkest days of the year are behind us, November's looking to be a pretty hefty month, game-wise. Here's what you should be keeping an eye on this week.
- Xbox One X: Microsoft's big premium console drops tomorrow. It's $499, but holds more power than any other console on the market. It's so powerful, in fact, that games won't even touch it. (Just kidding, there's a decent line-up of games that will take advantage of its "4K Ultra HD".)
- Sonic Forces: We didn't get codes for this (nor did other outlets, which raises a few eyebrows). Although, our old pal (and former Editor-in-Chief of USgamer) Jeremy Parish managed to track down a copy in the wild and reviewed it for Polygon. He gave it a 5/10, so, do with that knowledge what you will. As for us, if we can land a code at launch tomorrow Mike and I will be streaming it on Thursday, probably just to mess with its hopefully glorious character creator. Sonic OC fan fiction, here I come!
- Need For Speed: Payback: This year is literally overflowing with racing games, but Need For Speed seems to be the last of them. (At least, I think it is.) As we saw during E3, Need For Speed: Payback is taking the racing series in a sort of Fast and the Furious direction. I suppose we'll see if that ends up paying back when Mike's review goes up this week, and the game releases on Friday, November 10th for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
- Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus DLC: Ever since launch, a very mysterious timer has been ticking down. On November 7th, whatever's in this mysterious vault will be revealed. I have my money on it being the first chapter of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus' Season Pass, which will have players bouncing all across America as new characters fighting their own respective stories in Nazi-occupied America. Though, it'd be great for there to be a chapter select added to the main game too.
- Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds: Mike gave the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn DLC a spin, which brings Aloy to a new frontier to explore. As far as DLCs go, it's nothing too flashy: just more Horizon Zero Dawn, if that's the sort of jam that might hold you over before the end of the year rolls around.
- DOOM on Nintendo Switch: Doom's coming to Switch this Friday. I'll be checking it out to see how it shapes up, but a sneaking suspicion tells me it's just Doom, but now on Switch.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Daytime Town from Etrian Odyssey V
Well, now I've done it to myself. I'm playing Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth for the Nintendo 3DS.
I was a little unsure about taking the plunge at first. I'm not great with systems-heavy dungeon crawlers, and I've never played an Etrian Odyssey game until now. But Kat did a good job pitching Etrian Odyssey V to me on Axe of the Blood God, so I said "Heck it. I'll go ahead and download the demo."
So I download the demo, make my guild, and hastily name it "U2" because I thought I might not latch onto the game (oops). Then I start shuffling around the town menus and I'm like, "Wait a minute. Is this jazz music? Like, the smoothest friggin' jazz music I've ever heard in a video game?"
So you climb up the Tree of Life, sustain mortal wounds, and come limping back into town to the accompaniment of some of the most calming music ever written for an RPG. It's Etrian Odyssey V's way of telling you "Yeah, you got your ass kicked, but negative perspiration, my dude. Be chill. Rest up, and try again." Needless to say, I love this game.
Mike's Media Minute
For a brief moment today, the internet was embroiled in another round of speculation and dreaming. The reason? A CNBC news item about ongoing talks between 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Corporation. The deal would see Fox selling all of its assets unrelated to news and sports to Disney.
This is important, because 21st Century Fox owns the right to several key Marvel Comics properties, including the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. The lack of Marvel Studios ownership over those properties has long been a fan contention: without a deal in place the X-Men and Fantastic Four cannot cross over into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition, Fox's output with both brands hasn't been all that great. While there have been hits like X-Men: First Class, Deadpool, and Logan, there have also be misfires like the last Fantastic Four and X-Men: Apocalypse.
I'm of two minds about such a potential deal. On one hand, I think the X-Men and Fantastic Four deserve filmmakers that will turn out at least solid films. On the other hand, part of the magic of Marvel's current slate of films only happened because the company lacked access to the entire X-Men line. Given a reality where Marvel owned the X-Men and Fantastic Four, I doubt we would have past films like Guardians of the Galaxy, current releases like Thor: Ragnarok, and upcoming films like Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
Those choices came about because Marvel is lacking those traditional properties. I think a Marvel Studios without all those assets is more liable to make creative choices in which properties it chooses moving forward. In contrast, Warner Bros owns DC Comics lock, stock, and barrel. Of the random 20 films floating around in various states of production, seven of them are Batman-related in some fashion: Justice League, Batgirl, The Batman, Gotham City Sirens, Nightwing, Harley Quinn/Joker, and the Justice League sequel. That's one family of characters that has an entire schedule cornered. That makes sense, given the last two Batman films made a billion each, but it's a bit disappointing in terms of variety.
Regardless, the talks are currently dead. It's Hollywood though and Fox's stock price rose on the news, so talks could always resume. Either way, I'm torn on whether I want Marvel Studios to have control over the X-Men, Wolverine, and Deadpool again. (Fantastic Four needs to come home.)
This Week's News and Notes
- BlizzCon just wrapped up, and our resident news editor Matt Kim was live on the scene to gather all the hot news and scoops. Expect more from him this week on the Blizzard-centric convention. In the meantime you can check out our recap of all the news we learned on Friday, from new Overwatch goodies to World of Warcraft going back to its roots.
- Another one bites the dust: publishers Perfect World announced that they were effectively closing down the Seattle offices of Torchlight and Hob developers Runic Games. According to Runic's statement, it seems Perfect World will retain the Runic Games name, but everyone at the studio itself has been let go. Also bundled with the news, Motiga, the developers behind this year's Gigantic, have been mostly laid off, now left with a skeleton crew to keep the multiplayer game alive. Sad news all around, and we wish the best for everyone who has been affected by these closures.
- Freelancer Reid McCarter penned an amazing piece for us last week about Asassin's Creed: Origins and how it traces the history of Ancient Egypt in relation to colonialism, politics, and the inherent abuses of power.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is getting a Nintendo Direct tomorrow, November 7th, at 6am PT/9am ET. Since I'm in that Pacific Time Zone, I probably won't be awake for this one.
- Nintendo's drowning in that Super Mario Odyssey money. It's now the fastest selling Mario title. Nadia's been hitting the Super Mario Odyssey beat hard too: catch her ranking of the best transformations from the game last week.
- And last but not least, the Xbox One X is out this week! Are you planning on picking one up to get the most out of your expensive 4K television? Let us know! In the meantime, check out Kat's review of the hardware, Nadia's round-up of other reviews, and Mike breaking down the essential ten games to get the most out of that shiny Ultra HD.