Xbox in 2023: Starfield is Game Pass’ killer exclusive, and the barren years may finally be over
Xbox has been riding on the coattails of third-party publishers this generation. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of – in fact, the power of third-party offerings on Xbox Game Pass is the main reason I’ve made the Xbox Series X my primary console for the past few years. Last generation, you couldn’t pry me away from the PlayStation 4 as Destiny, Nioh, Persona 5, GTA and all the other big games fought for my attention.
But now, Xbox gives me (almost) everything I loved about PS4. I’m not the biggest fan of PlayStation’s cinematic franchises in the modern era, become a father, hide in the grass, camera over shoulder. They are good, of course, but a little homogenous for me. I still play them – they are great, prestigious examples of what big budget games can do! – but it’s the third-party giants that make me remember why I love video games in 2023.
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That’s why the Xbox has had a belter so far this generation, as far as I’m concerned. There have been some notable releases in the form of Halo Infinite, Pentiment and Forza Horizon 5 (all available on Xbox One, I might add), but for the most part, Xbox has been quiet on the franchise front.
But when you have zeitgeist-y titles like Powerwash Simulator, Plague Tale: Requiem, Disney Dreamlight Valley, Total War: Warhammer 3, Two Point Campus, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, and many more coming to Xbox Game Pass in last 12 months only – available day one – it’s easy to forget the exclusives. We were going to put High on Life on that list, but now that its creator and main contributor has been accused of abuse, we had a second thought.
Until you look at what the competition is doing, that is. Sony is killing it with franchises. Granted, as things stand, the PlayStation 5 doesn’t have much else going for it, but the franchises making waves in the PlayStation ecosystem are too big to ignore. God of War: Ragnarok sold 5.1 million units in five days, for Christ’s sake. Xbox may be busy acquiring Activision and Blizzard, but in terms of the essentials of the hard-locked and system-selling X Series, the proposition is pretty bare. All the while, Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, The Last of Us Part 1, GT7, Demon’s Souls and even Returnal make a hard enough case to ignore for getting a PlayStation 5. (if you can actually get your hands on one).
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So Xbox needs to grow, and fast. The only real solid, gold-plated exclusive we know of in the coming months is Starfield; The long-delayed new IP from Bethesda represents the developer’s biggest creative gambit in decades. All eyes are on the stars for this one, because it sets the stage for the rest of the generation, now – it’s the first proper triple-A, bethesda/Xbox exclusive, since the acquisition, and will set the stage for what will come in the future.
The game markets itself as a fun space expedition to answer humanity’s greatest mystery and marks Bethesda’s first new IP in 25 years. It has everything a game needs to do well in 2023, in my understanding: it has mystery, it has scope, and it has style. Whether you’re taken in by the promise of the narrative structure – “like NASA meets Indiana Jones meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a group of people still searching for answers” – or intrigued by the ‘moments of departure’ that Todd Howard says that the entire game is built around, Starfield has plagued us for years at this point. For Bethesda and Microsoft not to give in now would be disastrous.
So our attention is fixed squarely on the dedicated showcase event being planned just for Starfield sometime in the future. The powers that be at Microsoft have determined that Starfield deserves its own show so that the publisher/developer combo can “dedicate the time for a deep dive” into the game. Here’s hoping this is the time we get to see the dirt under the fingernails of the current Starfield experience, where we see what’s been blowing in the oven for nearly 10 years now.
In an alternate reality, we’re all already playing the game.
On a smaller scale, the same pressure applies to Redfall. Arkane Austin’s quirky title is billed as an open-world co-op FPS that sees you stranded with a handful of survivors and facing off against fiendish vampire enemies that threaten to drain the titular town. Apparently set in the same universe as Dishonored and Deathloop (I have questions), the game promises an action game more in line with Far Cry than Left 4 Dead. You can choose your hero from a diverse roster, teaming up with others to create the perfect team of vampire slayers. It will launch exclusively on Xbox Series X/S and PC at some point this year… after slipping from its original Summer 2022 window.
That game is a bit more clear and present: we know it’s coming to the Xbox/Bethesda Developer_Direct Livestream on January 25th, where Arkane Austin will show off “a few minutes of gameplay” from its upcoming FPS. The game will be joined by something from Forza Motorsport, where Turn10 will showcase the “next generation” in driving game life.
It’s not much, but it’s a start: a triptych of great games that lay some solid foundations for the future of the Xbox brand. We still need more – what about Fable, or Everwild, or Perfect Dark? – but that’s not a bad start. Let’s just hope the seeds Microsoft started planting at the start of the generation start to bear fruit soon, before gamers tire of the wait and defect to other platforms – or even other hobbies entirely.