Microsoft is about to have its own first party games show for Xbox Series X in a few days time, where we will see more from games we already know about (Halo Infinite) along with some fresh reveals of things that are little more than whispers right now (Fable 4?).
At the end of this current generation, Microsoft has gone on a tear, buying up talented studios to make games for Xbox (and PC) in an effort to combat Sony’s wide range of first party offerings. But what I am hoping to see this month is something different from them, something that speaks to part of the reason why Sony has been such a success with so many different games.
In short, Sony A) lets franchises rest and B) lets franchises transform and C) lets developers pursue new projects with new IPs.
While obviously the most anticipated game we know of coming to Xbox Series X is Halo Infinite, that will be the eighth full Halo game, if you count ODST, and the series has survived a total changeover of studio from Bungie to 343. To me, I am trying to imagine an alternate reality where Microsoft let Bungie do whatever they wanted after working on Halo for a decade, and you could have had Destiny, a game which currently boasts a million daily players, six years into the franchise, as an Xbox original.
Similarly, you have transforming franchises. Both Halo and Gears of War are, at their core, essentially eternally trying to recreate the success of the first few beloved games, usually a new developer trying to “stay true” to the original concepts and ideas of the first studio (343/Bungie, The Coalition/Epic).
Does this result in “good” games? Sure, I enjoyed Halo 5 and Gears 5, and yet fundamentally, it’s often just like “well, here’s another Gears game” with some new multiplayer modes and a better/worse story than the last one. But look at Sony to see what it’s like when a developer is allowed to grow their franchise in enormous and unpredictable ways, as we saw with the new God of War. We could have easily seen a God of War 4 locked into the same camera/gameplay style with the same raging Kratos slaughtering thirty new gods, but Sony Santa Monica took a new approach to gameplay, to storytelling, to the character of Kratos himself. It was a wild, risky transformation for a series that may not have needed it, but the gamble paid off enormously.
Finally, there’s letting developers do their own thing and experiment with new, big budget IPs. On Sony’s side you may guess that I’m speaking about Guerrilla Games, which after years and years of Killzone titles, decided they wanted to make a crazy open world game about robot dinosaurs. And now Horizon Zero Dawn has become a flagship franchise for PlayStation as a result, and is already more of an iconic IP than Killzone ever was. Or, similarly, what if Sony asked Naughty Dog to only make Uncharted games until the end of time, and The Last of Us series never was created as a result?
While we can’t confirm exactly what Microsoft is doing with all of its studios, the rumors we’ve heard about “new” games from existing developers are Forza Horizon’s developer making a new Fable game. There are also rumors about a new Perfect Dark game, bringing that IP back from the dead, though I’m not sure who would be working on that. Like Halo and Gears, Microsoft is pulling heavily from its back catalog rather than revealing huge new ideas, at least so far. We saw Sony exclusive franchises like Bloodborne, Spider-Man and Horizon Zero Dawn all spring up last generation. If we saw that on Microsoft’s side, it’s for much smaller games like Hellblade or Ori. Good titles, but it’s different.
To sum up, I think Microsoft has been playing it too safe with its originals. Too reliant on old franchises, some of which it may be time to sunset, too reliant on making those games as close to the originals as possible, and not letting them evolve in meaningful ways. And now, looking ahead, their future plans for new games may rely on again, reprising old IPs. I hope we see more than that at the showcase.
I am looking forward to the games show, and yes, I will play the hell out of Halo Infinite. But it’s just something to consider as we reflect on this past console generation, and look toward the new one.
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