Mixed news today out of Microsoft. First, the company has confirmed that the Xbox Series X is formally launching in November, with support for thousands of games. The reason Microsoft can make this kind of claim is due to backward-compatibility with previous generations of consoles. For the PC space, this kind of announcement would be met with puzzled stares — imagine Intel, AMD, or Nvidia declaring that a new CPU or GPU would simply be incompatible with previous hardware — but in the console space, it’s a revolutionary play.
Second, Halo Infinite has been delayed and will now ship sometime in 2021. According to 343 Industries, the delays were driven by the realities of COVID-19’s impact on the video game industry, as well as a need to safeguard the team’s health and well-being. Given the tremendous damage repeated crunch cycles in game development can cause, and the relatively recent push against the practice, it’s good to see a studio refusing to ship, especially with as high-profile a game as Halo Infinite.
According to Microsoft, there are more than 50 games developed across generational families launching before the end of the year. These will support Smart Delivery, meaning you only have to buy them once across both console generations. This list includes Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Dirt 5, Gears Tactics, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Watch Dogs: Legion. Other titles have yet to be announced.
The number of games actually developed for Xbox Series X and launching with Xbox Game Pass Support is small, with only three exclusives listed: The Medium, Scorn, and Tetris Effect: Connected. Tetris Effect: Connected is a multiplayer expansion of the original Tetris Effect title that came out back in 2018.
Finally, Microsoft is noting that there are 40 more titles “newly optimized” to take advantage of Xbox Series X, including Destiny 2, Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Madden NFL 21. This shift in which games will be offered for the new platform is effectively a different launch strategy than what we’ve seen Microsoft use in the past. COVID-19 may be responsible in part — game development, like everything else, has been affected — but again, I see parallels with the PC industry.
When Nvidia or AMD launches new hardware, they’ll often discuss how future games that support upcoming features will perform, but a substantial component of the launch will be how the GPU performs in cutting-edge games of the day. Personally, I weight my recommendations heavily towards the games you can buy on launch day, not any promises of future support. But if you follow the console market at all, you’re probably aware that launch-day games — with some noted exceptions throughout the years — typically aren’t the titles that go on to make a platform legendary. As the industry has moved more towards a games-as-a-service model, there’s greater reason to create unified playerbases and ecosystems across titles and across console generations.