Christmas in June
As kids, late November was always an exciting time of the year. It meant that Christmas was right around the corner. Pretty soon we’d be able to unwrap the new toys that would supply our fun over the next year. As gamers in our adulthood, that similar feeling hits many of us as spring turns to summer. Traditionally that would mean E3 was on the horizon and we’d soon discover which new games we would be able to play in the near and distant future. With E3 being on hiatus since the pandemic, that event for Xbox gamers has turned into the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase. This year was unique in that Microsoft was only showing games that are targeted for release within the next 12 months. Once some of us got over what that would mean and what games weren’t going to be shown, (“O Avowed, wherefore art thou Avowed”), what we were able to unpack was a creative, innovative, and impressive list of experiences that will be available through our Game Pass subscriptions. The folks here at XboxEra, with such eclectic and diverse tastes, didn’t have an easy task however after the elbows stopped being thrown and the dust settled, these became our top 10 games and three main talking points from the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase.
#10 – A Plague Tale: Requiem
Requiem is the sequel to one of 2019’s most pleasant surprises which delighted many fans of narrative-driven games with its strong characters, stunning visuals, and good voice acting. Later this year we will get a chance to continue Amicia and Hugo’s journey through this bleak, yet beautiful world. 2019’s Plague Tale: Innocence was a big step for the studio in delivering something that most weren’t aware they were capable of and it will be interesting to see if they can raise that bar even further with the sequel.
#9 – Pentiment
Led by Josh Sawyer, one of the industry’s most renowned game designers behind critically acclaimed gems such as Fallout: Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, comes one of the most unique pieces of art from the showcase. Pentiment is a passion project that Sawyer had pitched two decades ago and finally had approved around the time of Microsoft’s purchase about 4 years ago. A 16th-century narrative adventure with mystery elements and gameplay that will resemble the likes of Night in the Woods and Oxenfree with a medieval painted art style may not have been something you were asking for going into the show however if you’re a fan of strong narratives in unique settings, then checking out this game from one of the industry’s best writers and world builders is highly recommended when it launches in November.
#8 – Persona (s)
One of the most popular and highest-rated Japanese RPG franchises of all time is finally coming to Xbox and Windows PC. 3 Persona games will eventually make their appearance with the crown jewel of the collection, Persona 5 Royal, making its debut on Game Pass later this year. Some have claimed this latest entry to be among the best Japanese RPGs ever. With multi-faceted characters, superb story-telling and challenging tactical combat, Xbox and PC gamers will have to set aside well over 100 hours to experience this masterpiece on October 21.
#7 – The Last Case of Benedict Fox
This 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania pulled us in with its beauty and Tim Burton-esque art style. The Last Case of Benedict Fox brings to life a Lovecraftian influence where gamers will have the opportunity to unravel a mystery while they fight demons, solve elaborate puzzles and explore surreal maze-like locations in a 1925 manor. We will have our chance to solve this gorgeous Metroidvania during the spring of next year.
#6 – High on Life
From the Co-Creator of Rick and Morty comes one of the most unique first-person shooters we’ve ever seen. This game oozes style from its vibrant color pallet, diverse biomes and the fact that every gun is a character with a distinct set of abilities and personality. The guns alone allude more personality than some AAA games achieve in their entirety. High on Life may be an exciting example of what can happen when independent developers with unrestrained creative freedom gain the ability to make prettier things on-screen with better tools this generation. We can’t wait to see what else the inventive minds at Squanch Games thought of when we play High on Life October 25th.
#5 – Diablo 4
With over 50 million copies sold, Diablo is a franchise that probably doesn’t need a lot of introduction to players interested in this type of genre. That said, Diablo 4 looks to raise the bar and expand the pillars of the franchise in all areas which gives it the potential to bring new participants to the genre with its significantly improved visuals, the transition from linear to open world, and increased dynamism. Blizzard promises that choices players made within the open world will make a lasting difference. We’ll be able to take our tailored-made characters into either a single-player experience or with a friend across platforms. Diablo is the only game on this list that hasn’t been announced for Game Pass yet…however, we suspect that will change if Microsoft closes the Activision Blizzard deal before it launches in 2023.
#4 – Wo Long
Before FromSoftware ruled the genre with Dark Souls, Team Ninja was the master of skill-based, hack-and-slash action games when Ninja Gaiden showed up on the original Xbox back in 2004. Over the years, despite the change to personal, Team Ninja has remained one of the premier developers of 3rd person combat with their excellent Nioh series. They have since bolstered their talent with the addition of producer Masaaki Yamagiwa of Bloodbourne fame. With a pedigree like that, we’re very excited about the potential of this action-packed dark fantasy set during the chaotic Three Kingdoms period. After a generation apart, Xbox gamers will reunite with Team Ninja when Wo Long launches onto Game Pass early next year.
# 3 – Forza Motorsport
Leave it up to Turn 10 to set the bar once again. Whether it was being the first to offer driving lines to train new drivers, their robust livery customization that unlocked the creative potential of the community, or drivatars that first explored the power of the cloud when Forza launched on the Xbox One, Turn 10 appears ready to be the standard-bearer in terms of consistency, quality, and innovation again. With an overhauled game engine that Turn 10 professes to be “the most technically advanced racing game ever”, this version of Forza Motorsport will offer things like raytracing, dynamic time of day, and dynamic weather for all tracks. Textures captured with photogrammetry, 48 times improvement in fidelity for physics simulation, completely overhauled driving dynamics, and destruction which is now reproduced down to individual scratches on the bodywork will all offer a significant…potentially generational difference in driving immersion when released in the spring of 2023.
#2 – Redfall
Arkane has developed a loyal following over the years for becoming the prominent developer in the genre of immersive sims…a genre that had entered the endangered species list among AAA studios. Immersive sims make players feel as though they are part of a believable world by creating systems and mechanics that feel logical, offering player choice and relying less on scripted gamey sequences. As developers of favorites such as Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop, Arkane has woven this gameplay together with excellent world-building and mature story-telling while maintaining a high degree of consistency in quality. Their newest entry into the genre is their most ambitious with the first attempt at an open world that allows you to play with or without a friend. With unique character abilities and a multitude of ways to tackle each circumstance, we’re excited that Redfall still retains the Arkane DNA despite trying new things. Will the open world and co-op bring new players to the genre? We find out when Redfall releases in 2023.
Before we talk about the main event, (and yes, we know you can’t wait to discuss Todd Howard’s leather jacket), let’s acknowledge a few major talking points that stood out to us during the showcase.
Japanese Presence on Xbox
For the past few years, Phil Spencer has affirmed that Microsoft had work to do to improve the presence of developers on the platform from the land of the rising sun. Within the span of a few minutes, Kojima would announce he’s developing an ambitious, innovative project with Microsoft. Persona would break its long-time console-exclusive relationship with PlayStation, and Team Ninja would break its exclusivity as well. One of the industry’s top Japanese creative minds, the top Japanese RPG, and one of Japan’s best action studios all announced that not only would they be on Xbox, but they’d also be there day one Game Pass. These three announcements together were a sum greater than the excellent individual parts representing a potential major turning point for Xbox and Japan.
Game Pass is PC. PC is Game Pass
The first few years of existence for Game Pass have shown a content quality gap between console and PC with PC subscribers getting the short end of the stick most of the time. Recently that trend has been changing and is providing results as Spencer recently stated that PC Game Pass subscribers increased 300% in the past year. Riot Games, the developers behind League of Legends and Valorant, would announce a Game Pass partnership bringing benefits to their massive fanbase which boasts 180 million users for League of Legends alone. In addition, Microsoft would show off multiple PC-centric strategy games including Ara: History Untold, an ambitious new entry to the genre that Microsoft is publishing. All this comes in addition to a Bethesda RPG on the horizon which is most popular on PC due to the extensive mod support. With these investments on center stage, Microsoft made a heavy pitch to the core PC gamer that the value of their service will improve considerably over the next 12 months.
Beyond Halo, Gears, and Forza
For over a decade, three franchises have carried the Xbox brand in mindshare or were reasons to stay in the ecosystem. While Forza certainly made a grand appearance during the show, Microsoft opened and closed with extensive gameplay of two new IPs from two of their newest studios while Halo Infinite and Gears had the year off together. The next pillars of Xbox are finally on the horizon….and at least one of those has the potential to be its most prominent game since Halo 3 launched a decade and a half ago.
…and now back to our grand finale…
#1 – Starfield
Few games have legs like a Bethesda RPG. Today you can turn on your Xbox, go to the Xbox most played games list and still find Skyrim and Fallout 4 among those games despite originally releasing nearly 7 and 11 years ago. When you boil the list down to single-player experiences, their placement becomes even more impressive as they are consistently within or near the top 5 most played single-player games week after week, year after year. When Sarah Bond spoke during the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, she called Starfield the most anticipated open-world RPG of the last 20 years. A quick glance at how this game that we knew so little about prior to Sunday trended on social media seemed to back those claims up. There have been exactly zero games since Fallout 4 launched in 2015 that have been solid Bethesda-likes. Bethesda games are beloved due to their emergent single-player worlds that players can get lost in while creating their own unique story and experience. Be who you want. Go where you want. With a highly revamped game engine, over 1000 planets for modders to mod, the most hand-crafted environments in a Bethesda RPG, and its biggest story…Bethesda Softworks looks to once again create a landmark game…a generational game that will be played for years to come.
So how do you think we did with our picks? Did we miss something? We look forward to hearing your feedback and picks in the XboxEra forums.