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- Halo Infinite
Without Master Chief’s first adventure, it’s not clear we’d have the Xbox One or upcoming Series X since Halo made Xbox a legitimate contender in the console space. Halo Infinite was primed to repeat at least some of that success for Microsoft this fall, but a delay that would not have mattered much in any other year has tossed a sticky grenade on the face of the Series X’s launch. It was Microsoft’s biggest gun and without it, Microsoft isn’t poised for a firefight with Sony when both new systems hit the market.
Even though its initial reveal at The Game Awards in December was a pleasant surprise, Microsoft has already had a lot to overcome in regards to the Xbox Series X. The aggressively mediocre May showcase, commitment to no true exclusives for at least a year, and Halo Infinite’s polarizing gameplay demo gave the company many different stumbling blocks that it didn’t need coming right off the most clumsy Xbox generation. The Xbox Series X wasn’t shaping up to be an Xbox One-esque fumble and Halo Infinite, despite its underwhelming presentation, was key in counterbalancing a lot of that criticism.
But even then, Master Chief’s Spartan armor couldn’t bear all of that weight. Having no true Xbox Series X exclusives meant that it was going to be difficult to buy the console for anyone with a decent PC or a functioning Xbox One. You didn’t have to get the Xbox Series X to play Halo, but the surrounding hype of the console launch would have made that easier to buy into. That combined hype of a new Halo game and a matching Xbox would have worked well together.
The lack of a “killer app”
But without one of those pieces, the whole thing is shaken to its foundation and makes buying an Xbox Series X at launch a significantly less appealing proposition than it already was. There’s very little sit next to Master Chief’s spotlight, much less take it in his absence. That is what happens when your top game in a sparse launch library goes away. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War: Too Many Colons, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Watch Dogs: Legion will be there but those will also be on other systems.
The Medium sounds slick, but Bloober is consistently inconsistent. The Ascent looks fine and Call of the Sea is beautiful, but these three “exclusives” will also be on PC, are so drastically different from Halo, and aren’t designed to carry a whole system. Forza, a game that Microsoft could theoretically push as the new system front runner, won’t even be there at launch.
Microsoft is banking on backwards compatibility and boasting “thousands” of launch games, but, while true, is quite desperate and speaks to the tricky situation the console maker is in; a situation that has been exacerbated since Halo’s delay. Beefed-up Xbox One games, Smart Delivery, and the ability to play the best version of Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie from the Xbox 360 are all nice secondary bullets that shouldn’t be propped up as the main attraction.
The current messaging seems to be that the Xbox Series X is the best place to play old games you already have and the place to use Game Pass. However, you would presumably already have those old systems to revisit those titles on along with a Game Pass-enabled machine for everything else. But, again, those are secondary features and Microsoft was using Halo Infinite as a means to get more people into the next generation, a point that was already thin, given its simultaneous launch on the Xbox One and PC.
The one true next-gen exclusive this fall
Sony was already positioned to have a stronger launch and now that is even more clear. Spider-Man: Miles Morales being a PS5 exclusive (with a rumored remaster of the 2018 game) now sticks out even more and gives the system a distinct leader that you can only get on the new system. Deathloop, Godfall, Bugsnax, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits are also coming to the PC (and the latter two are releasing on PS4 as well), but Sony isn’t using those as the main draw. They’re all tertiary experience meant to revolve around Miles Morales. Microsoft has no such thing to revolve around.
Consoles are more than their launches. Other than Breath of the Wild, few launch lineups have ever had anything that has lasted the rest of the year in the collective conscious. But lineups can set the tone and Microsoft isn’t setting a great one with no true centerpiece. Games should always be delayed if they need it — insert the Miyamoto quote here — and it’s excellent that, despite the pattern set by other delays, it appears to be for the health of the people at 343. But Halo Infinite’s delay had a lot more riding on it than most games so hopefully it doesn’t bury the Xbox Series X and hobble it too much right out of the gate.