In the wake of Xbox and Bethesda’s joint E3 conference, it feels like a perfect time to assess the state of Xbox as a brand and how it’s beginning to stack up with Sony. After an entire generation of next to no exclusives and studio acquisitions left, right and centre, it looks like Xbox is finally starting to come up with the goods. It’s ancient news to know that the launch of the Xbox One and the subsequent years to follow were abysmal, almost leading to Microsoft giving up on Xbox for good. It’s also not news that Phil Spencer not only steadied the ship in the years to follow but also steered it directly towards success through innovation.

Reaction to the E3 conference

Here’s the link to the Xbox/Bethesda conference in case you haven’t watched it already:

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=video&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiw5pGdoZzxAhWJi1wKHUK4DXwQtwIwAHoECAcQAw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D1YnVzOA2wNs&usg=AOvVaw0kyMBA1YOqIThVlG0pwyoC

Jumping ahead to the present, fresh off the back of Xbox’s first shared conference with Bethesda since their acquisition became official earlier this year. The influence of Bethesda on the conference was undeniable, with the most memorable announcements being the release date for the elusive new IP Starfield (November 11th, 2022) and Arkane’s latest game, Redfall (2022). Just as exciting was the news that these games will be coming exclusively to the Xbox ecosystem. Other substantial announcements include The Outer Worlds 2 being announced and the expected news on Halo: Infinite coming this holiday season and Microsoft Flight Simulator finally coming to consoles.

Although there were many more announcements and new looks at upcoming releases, the most notable thing to take away other than the games already mentioned is that of the 30 games shown, 27 will be coming to game pass on day one. Alongside that, even those that will not be permanent Xbox exclusives will be timed exclusives, with the message “Xbox launch exclusive” flashing before many of the reveals. These announcements bring with them the end of the barren spell for Xbox of being the console with no exclusives. A spell spanning from the release of the Xbox One in 2013 to now, a time that Sony has utilised to get an iron grip on the industry.

 

The ever-growing Xbox ecosystem

Looking beyond the conference that undoubtedly made Xbox the best of E3 2021, it is becoming impossible to ignore the suite of services that are on offer to those in the Xbox ecosystem. The most obvious and most popular of these is the best value for money in gaming, the behemoth that is Xbox Game Pass. At the time of writing, around 23 million gamers are subscribed to the service. Not only is it strong now, but it is only going to get even better when all of the announced Xbox exclusives release and are brought to the service day one for no extra charge, especially a little game called Starfield.

Next, we have xCloud, the streaming service from Xbox that allows players to stream games to any android device (and Apple devices soon enough) as long as they are subscribed to Game Pass. Offering over 200 games to play whenever you wish on whatever device you wish is one of those rare situations where it is a win-win for the developer and the consumer. The reason that xCloud has been received so much better than other streaming services like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna is that Xbox understands that it is an extra feature. Where Google and Amazon are putting all their eggs into the streaming basket, Xbox understands that it’s a great little thing to be able to do, but in no way does it replace playing the biggest games on your TV at home.

Speaking of Stadia, Microsoft has a plan in the works to bring a very similar service to players. They are working on a streaming device that will work similarly to Google’s Chromecast that will allow players to play games on their TV without having a console. Chances are this will be successful on a similar level to xCloud, as a stand-alone service like Stadia and Luna, it may not be too strong, but as something that comes part and parcel with the Xbox ecosystem, it has all the back up it will need to be a success.

Of course, we also have the infamous topic of backwards compatibility, in this area, Xbox flourishes where PlayStation falters. On one hand, we have 4 generations of Xbox titles available to play at the press of a button on the new Series X/S consoles. On the other hand, we have most of the PS4 titles, along with a very select few games from the PS3 and PS2 generations available on the PlayStation store. If nothing else, this strategy to embrace older games on Xbox’s part only helps to repair the relationship with fans that was fractured by the Xbox One. Another feature that is quietly ticking away in the background is the FPS boost, going back to older games and upping the frame rate. Again, this certainly isn’t a system seller, but it can only be a positive thing for players wanting to go back to some of their favourite games (at the time of writing 97 games have been given an FPS boost on Xbox).

 

The other side of the fence

It must be said, for all the excitement of Xbox’s E3 showing, there was nothing that evoked the same excitement in me as one of the big Sony exclusives. In a similar vein, there wasn’t anything that displayed the same level of polish, although there was next to no actual gameplay on show for the 30 titles that were involved in the show. Perhaps that’s unfair, as the Sony studios have essentially a decade of producing exclusives, the first Uncharted was certainly a diamond in the rough.

However, something to consider, Xbox had a great showing without any mention of Perfect Dark, Avowed, Fable, Hellblade 2, The Elder Scrolls 6, Everwild… You get the idea. The future promise Xbox has shown for the last couple of years is finally here, and they’re hitting all the right notes. This generation is shaping up to be the most exciting yet, with the two big players seemingly playing two totally different games, and that is great for the players.

 

 

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