I’ve waited a long time to say this with confidence: Microsoft is finally – finally – set up for sustained first-party success. Xbox Studios’ on-paper portfolio was capped off by The Game Awards’ riveting reveal of Perfect Dark, which will revive a beloved N64-era franchise that has been dormant for 15 years. It’s been entrusted to The Initiative, Microsoft’s lone new homegrown studio located in the development hotbed of Santa Monica that’s staffed by talent with impressive resumes. Perfect Dark’s director, for instance, is Drew Murray, who also helmed the sublime Sunset Overdrive.
But let’s back up a bit first. The story of the Xbox One’s disastrous launch has been well-told at this point, though I’d argue that Microsoft’s failures in the first-party/exclusive games department over the past generation have been just as damaging to the brand, if not more so. Funny enough, Xbox One had a pretty solid launch window’s worth of exclusives, including Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Titanfall. But since starting reasonably strong on the software side, the well has gone and stayed dry, year after year. And while there have been some gems, they’ve been overshadowed by studio closures, franchise failures, and high-profile cancellations and even higher-profile delays.
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You know the recent Xbox story: a host of studio acquisitions, a megaton Bethesda purchase, the rise of Xbox Game Pass, and the release of a great new next-generation console in the Xbox Series X. The last and most important piece of the puzzle has always been first-party and/or exclusive games, though, and it’s also the problem that takes the longest to solve. You simply can’t get major, system-selling exclusives overnight, even when you pay $7.5 billion.
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That brings us to today, when we can finally take a holistic view of Microsoft’s first-party roadmap and genuinely get excited about what we see:
- Halo Infinite
- Perfect Dark
- The Elder Scrolls VI
- Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2
- Forza Motorsport
- State of Decay 3
- Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox Series X version)
That’s a damned impressive list, and that doesn’t even include unannounced-but-inevitable sequels like Forza Horizon 5, Gears 6, Fallout 5, and Doom 3. Nor do we know what talented studios like Machinegames (Wolfenstein) and Compulsion (We Happy Few) are up to yet. Meanwhile, Microsoft has also inked a handful of third-party console launch exclusives, including Warhammer 40,000: Darktide and the Vin Diesel vehicle Ark 2.
The bad news is that most of those are still pretty far away. Granted, 2021 should still see a number of exclusives land on Game Pass, though not many heavy hitters. The Medium, Scorn, CrossfireX, Psychonauts 2, Warhammer, 12 Minutes, and the console release of Flight Sim are all on tap to be appetizers for 2021’s main Xbox course in the Fall, Halo Infinite.
And look, no one’s saying these games are “better” than PlayStation’s exclusives. Sony has earned its sterling reputation amongst gamers by consistently delivering fantastic first-party games. I’m not writing this as a comparison at all. Quite frankly, Microsoft has to get its own house in order before it can worry about Sony. All of these games have to actually be stellar, not just good, in order for that to happen.
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But there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for Xbox gamers. Perfect Dark, a first-person “more than a shooter” according to The Game Awards reveal video, gives Microsoft the chance to do what a new IP can’t: tap into a groundswell of nostalgia and resurrect a fan-favorite franchise in a way Xbox has never really done before. It could prove to be the perfect complement to the rest of the newly impressive first-party roster. Here’s hoping Microsoft can pull the whole thing off, and that Xbox’s first-party problems finally become a thing of the past.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.
Source: IGN Video Games All