It’s no secret that Xbox was slow to start up and then maintain consistency this console generation. For example, 2020 saw the company putting out a weak console launch lineup made up of ports and remasters. While 2021 had a flurry of great games, it was followed by a comparatively barren 2022. And 2023 hasn’t been perfect either (due, in large part, to the flop that is Redfall), but outside of that, this year delivered the excellent Hi-Fi Rush, the grandly scaled Starfield, solid ports of two Age of Empires games and Quake II, a new Minecraft title, and a technical showpiece in Forza Motorsport.
Looking at that varied lineup, these games showcase both the potential of the Series X and the power of Xbox as a brand. Prospects for Xbox’s lineup are up heading into 2024 too, so it feels like we’re at the proper start of the Xbox Series X and S console generation … even if it came a few years too late.
Looking at the 2020 launch lineup for Xbox Series X/S, it wasn’t exactly emblematic of what the console could do. While there were some nice 4K and 60 frames per second (fps) upgrades for Xbox One games, the only new draws were a console port of Gears Tactics, the multiplayer-supporting Tetris Effect: Connected, a temporary next-gen exclusive version of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and some smaller indies like The Falconeer and Bright Memory 1.0.
Most of those games were on or came to more platforms afterward and, in general, didn’t provide that strong of an argument for why players should stick around this console generation. But looking at many of the games Xbox has released this year, it finally feels like we have a bundle of good Xbox exclusives that show what the platform was always capable of.
In my review of Forza Motorsport, I note that the game feels like a launch title because it’s an impressive technical showpiece. It runs at 4K and 60 fps in performance mode, which is something not many games this generation have done. The closest comparable games are Astro’s Playroom and Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered on PlayStation 5, which effectively demonstrated the power of Sony’s console early on.
Forza Motorsport was also built as a platform that developer Turn 10 Studios can expand over time. It plans to periodically slot in new single and multiplayer content, including new cars and tracks. A game like that makes a lot of sense early on in a console’s life span in this live-service era. It’s what Microsoft tried to do with Halo Infinite, even if that didn’t pan out as expected due to a one-year delay, and with Killer Instinct on Xbox One.
Then there’s the matter of games that intrinsically feel next-gen in scope. While that’s a much more nebulous feeling from person to person, the scale of a game like Starfield feels like something that wouldn’t have worked or run as well on an Xbox One. It’s a landmark, zeitgeisty first-party release that got the whole video game industry talking, which is something that Xbox has only managed to do a few times over the past decade and could have sorely used at the start of this console generation.
On top of that, you’ve got Hi-Fi Rush and Minecraft Legends as 2023 stand-ins for the typical quirkier launch titles, in line with games like Sackboy: A Big Adventure or Ryse: Son of Rome. The Age of Empires ports show unification between the PC and console publishing departments of Xbox. And it’s also been a solid year for day-one Xbox Game Pass titles, with third-party games like Exoprimal and Lies of P hitting the subscription on launch day. It’s perhaps the first time in nearly a decade that Xbox has seemed healthy on both the first-party and third-party fronts.
While it’s impossible to say that Xbox has fully gotten its mojo back or that this is a definitive end to Microsoft’s struggles, 2023 is still the first year where it has genuinely felt like the Series X vision is coming into focus. We’ve gotten a comprehensive game lineup and reason to have faith in the viability of the future game lineup thanks to a packed summer showcase this June. It feels like a console launch year for Xbox. While that is a bit concerning as we’re three years into these consoles’ life spans, it hopefully is a sign that things will be better going forward, with Xbox truly rebounding after the lows of 2022 and Redfall.
So, what does this feeling mean for players? For Xbox Series X and S owners, we finally are getting a sense of consistency and validation for the hardware we picked up, in some cases, almost three years ago. For those who don’t own an Xbox system, it’ll feel like the generation just started if you pick one up now and immediately download Forza Motorsport, Starfield, and Hi-Fi Rush.
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