We have only hours left of 2018 and for personal reasons as well as gaming ones I’ll be glad to see the back of it. On the video games front, which let’s face it is why you’re here, it was a bit of a disappointing year. With the exception of Forza Horizon 4, the Xbox exclusives didn’t go down that well. Even the third-party titles on Xbox One weren’t all that special. We did see lots of moves behind the scenes, though, that fill us with hope for the future of our beloved system. Let’s review the year via a few areas that we found particularly interesting.
When choosing what console to pick up, console exclusives are one of the major influences. Both Sony and Nintendo had great years. PlayStation titles like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Tetris Effect, Yakuza 6, and Spider-Man were great. The Switch continued doing its own thing with games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Kirby Star Allies, Mario Tennis Aces, and of course the superb Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Meanwhile, Xbox One floundered a little with Sea of Thieves proving to be extremely divisive and State of Decay 2 failing to reach a larger audience. It wasn’t all bad though as Forza Horizon 4 proved that Xbox is the place for racing game fans.
Whether 2019 will be a better year for Xbox, we honestly don’t know, but we hope so. The big exclusive early in the year will be Crackdown 3 and who knows how that game will turn out. Also due to come out in 2019, we have Ori and the Will of the Wisp and Gears 5. We also assume that we’ll get Forza Motorsport 8 and we could even see Battletoads.
While Game Pass might have launched in 2017, it was 2018 when the service came into its own. We’re big fans of Game Pass, and that feeling grew considerably this year. In January of this year, it was announced that first-party titles would arrive on the service at launch. This was a huge move that has led to a load more people joining the service. Since then, the service has gone from strength to strength. More and more third-party titles are available, and numerous indie games are appearing at launch. Microsoft has been pushing Game Pass more than ever in their Inside Xbox streams. We have no idea what 2019 will bring for the service. I think it’s safe to assume, though, that Microsoft considers it to be a core part of their Xbox brand both now and into the next generation.
Microsoft’s biggest moves were done behind the scenes this year. Sony and Nintendo might have won the battle for exclusives this year. Phil Spencer took steps to make sure that the future belongs to Xbox, though. During their 2018 E3 press conference, Microsoft announced the acquisition of four studios and the creation of a new one. State of Decay developer Undead Labs, Forza Horizon creator Playground games, We Happy Few developer Compulsion Games, and Ninja Theory the studio behind Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice were all added to the Microsoft Studios fold.
We also got the official announcement of their AAAA development studio The Initiative. This new studio has hired some serious talent. Darrell Gallagher (former studio head of Crystal Dynamics), Christian Cantamessa (lead writer and designer on Red Dead Redemption), Dan Neuburger (co-director on Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider), Brian Westergaard (lead producer on God of War), and Tom Shepherd (former technical director at Rockstar San Diego) are all part of this studio. We won’t see anything of what they’re working on until the next generation of Xbox, but it’s very exciting.
At X018, last month, we also got news of two new studios being picked up by Microsoft. Obsidian Entertainment, the developers of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the Pillars of Eternity series, are now part of the Xbox family. The other studio was InXile Entertainment. They are best known for creating the Wasteland and Torment series.
These seven studios mean that Xbox should have a much more consistent stream of console exclusives coming in the future. This can only be a good thing and shows that Microsoft is committed to trying to challenge PlayStation in the next generation of consoles.
New generation of Xbox in development
There were unsubstantiated rumours that Microsoft may step away from the console market after PlayStation’s domination this generation. Phil Spencer put these rumours to rest during their 2018 E3 press conference. While no details were really given, we do know they are working on consoles, and they’re using the codename ‘Scarlett.’ Since that announcement, there have been lots of rumours that there are two boxes in development called Anaconda and Lockhart. Some say that one is a traditional box while the other is a streaming-only console. Other rumours suggest that it’s more a case of one being similar to the Xbox One X and the other being like a standard Xbox One. Either way, it’s heartening to know that Xbox is moving forward and with Phil Spencer at the helm, we are quietly confident.
Return of Summer of Arcade (sort of)
Another announcement made during X018 was that Summer of Arcade was returning as Winter of Arcade. This is something that long-time Xbox fans have been crying out for. It has to be said, though, that it hasn’t been all we hoped for. Despite bringing us some great new games like Ashen, Below, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, Mutant Year Zero, Subnautica, Kingdom Two Crowns, Desert Child, and Donut County, there hasn’t been the curation that Summer of Arcade provided. We just hope that people don’t miss out on some of these great games and that it’s successful enough to become a permanent fixture. After all, 2018 was a good return, but there’s more that could be done
2018 has been a mixed gaming year, but there has still been a lot of fun to be had. Microsoft made some big moves, positioning itself to really take the fight to Sony in the next generation. Here’s hoping that in 2019 we get some new classic games and Phil Spencer keeps taking Xbox in the right direction.
Founding Xbox Enthusiast member and serious guitar player. Basically, Steve rocks. Need we say more?