When Was The Last Time An Xbox One Exclusive Truly Moved You?
The Xbox One X is the world’s most powerful console. With its 6 Teraflop GPU, 8-Core Custom AMD CPU, and 12GB GDDR5, the Xbox One X promises immersive, real world detail and a true 4K gaming experience. On a technical level, Microsoft’s mid-gen console makes good on that promise; games look absolutely amazing on Xbox One X. While the degree of better visuals may be ultimately negligible in some cases, there is no denying the power of the Xbox One X. But as a machine designed to impress and to tout its graphical superiority above all consoles before it, it has somewhat failed to deliver – and remarkably so. Power does not create powerful moments. Microsoft’s Xbox One X may be full of sound and fury, but what good is all that noise if its exclusive titles ultimately signify nothing?
Building off of the Xbox One X’s reveal and imminent release, Microsoft spent a great deal of 2018 hyper-focused on the power of its updated gaming device. With 3rd-Party game reveals coming out of E3 and most recently The Game Awards, Microsoft did not miss an opportunity to boast of the X’s true 4K capabilities. It was this focus that underscored Microsoft and the Xbox One’s core issue – its noticeable lack of memorable and moving exclusives.
In March of 2018, expectations for Sea of Thieves, Microsoft’s first major exclusive title of the year, were high. While many voiced concerns that Rare’s “shared world pirate adventure game” would lack content upon release, beta buzz was overwhelmingly positive and the title was on course to be standout game for the Xbox One family. The final product however, was not so well-received. Sea of Thieves showed a great deal of potential but its lack of variety and depth revealed how shallow the experience truly was. It was also unfortunate enough to have been released between two high-profile exclusives on a competing platform: one a remake of one of the single greatest video games, and the other a stoic and stunning reinvention of one of PlayStation’s most celebrated franchises. With launch week sales more than 70% higher than the PS2 original, PS4’s Shadow of the Colossus was not only met commercial success but with critical acclaim as well. As for God of War, Santa Monica Studio’s highly anticipated sequel would become the fastest-selling PlayStation release and would forever be immortalized as Game of the Year, besting the likes of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. With nary a multiplayer component in sight or a declaration of a paramount 4K visuals, Sony’s pair of exclusive titles resonated with gamers on a promise of an emotional experience. Shadow of the Colossus restored a tragically beautiful love story for a new generation, and Kratos’ transformation from a violent, vengeful character to a father coping with his inner most demons resonated with gamers on a unprecedented level not seen since possibly The Last of Us. While Microsoft was keen to deliver a game as a service, Sony was weaving a tapestry of emotion. Unfortunately for the Xbox One family, the trend would continue with is next big exclusive of 2018.
Near the end of May, Microsoft released an even greater multiplayer misstep with State of Decay 2. Plagued by a multitude of bugs which hobbled its launch, Undead Labs’ open-world zombie survival sequel fared worse than Sea of Thieves with critics and gamers alike. The power of the Xbox One X could do little to salvage the title from repetitive combat and mission variety, and its overall lack of polish. Microsoft had doubled-down on multiplayer experiences and once again failed to move gamers. To make matters worse, no later than a week after State of Decay 2’s launch did Sony unleash yet another powerful story-driven title – Detroit: Become Human. Arguably the most polarizing of Sony’s exclusives of 2018, Quantic Dreams’ latest title remains as one of the smartest narratives ever written and it quickly became the French developer’s most successful game launch to date. Whether it was Markus’ fight for freedom, Kara’s desire to protect someone she loved, or Connor’s remarkable personal struggle coupled with his compelling relationship with Hank, Detroit: Become Human was an incredibly evocative title, and gamers wanted to be a part of the conversation.
As the end of summer loomed, Microsoft geared up for its third and final major release of the year. Forza Horizon 4 is a true testament to the power of Xbox One X. With its dynamic seasons and breathtaking scenery, Forza Horizon 4 is easily the quintessential racing game of the current generation. It is an attractive game and controls like an absolute dream, but shimmer and shine and tight gameplay do not a moving experience make. While Forza Horizon 4 more than made up for the less-than-favorable reception of Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2, the formidable racer could not help but be eclipsed by Sony’s Spider-Man. Perhaps the single greatest superhero game of all time, Spider-Man has garnered worldwide praise. As of November 2018, Sony’s single-player, story-driven title has ensnared over 9 million gamers. Aside from starring the most universally appealing superhero, Spider-Man’s success is greatly owed to how relate-able Insomniac’s portrayal of Peter Parker was. Its success sent a very clear message: single-player games and their stories still matter. With such a strong focus on impact and emotion over power and resolution, it should come as no surprise that Sony’s PS4 is now closing in on a staggering 92 million sales as it enters its sixth year on the market.
The question still remains: when was the last time an Xbox One exclusive truly moved you? The answer, whatever it may be, only highlights the PS4’s greatest strength. It’s hard not to think of the gaming experiences that inspire us, that generate genuine chatter, without thinking of the PlayStation brand. With the not-too-distant release of Days Gone, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, and Ghosts of Tsushima looming, Sony remains as dedicated as ever to affect and to excite gamers for years to come. Fortunately for Xbox One and beyond, Microsoft now has the capacity and the components to do so.
Currently, Microsoft owns 13 game studios, seven of which have been acquired or founded as of last year. While these acquisitions solve the problem of bountiful 1st-Party exclusives, it does not guarantee quality – with the exception of course to Ninja Theory; Hellblade was a twisted, agonizing tile and it is exactly the type of story-driven content that Microsoft needs to claim as its own at it prepares for the next generation. Gamers are ready to be wowed, Microsoft – it is long overdue. Third-Party developers have long demonstrated their ability to create fun, multiplayer experiences. Since these titles are also multi-platform, gamers have chosen the PlayStation 4 for reasons beyond games as a service.
Your move, Microsoft.