X019 came and went in true Xbox fashion, with exciting news from Xbox Game Studios (XGS), partnered developers, and gameplay trailers to make long-time fans salivate over Xbox’s future. New games on Xbox Game Pass, partnerships with developers and publishers with long-standing relationships with Sony PlayStation, and Project xCloud are just some of the proclamation subjects touched upon during the conference.
With all the upcoming products and features coming to Xbox’s arsenal, it’s difficult not to get hyped, as the console will start offering many fan favorites traditionally only available on Sony PlayStation or, occasionally, Windows PC. If XGS delivers on even half of their promises from X019, there should be exciting times ahead for the Xbox brand.
Xbox Game Pass
One of the revelations at X019 was the Brobdingnagian list of titles coming to Xbox Game Pass soon. From titles like The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Rage 2 to classic Final Fantasy titles and the Yakuza series, the subscription-based service that gives players access to a vast sea of games will be receiving many popular games.
In addition, those who subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate will be able to stream all their favorite games via Project xCloud, and if one purchases three months of Game Pass Ultimate, they will also receive a three-month subscription to Discord Nitro for free.
For many gamers, subscription-based game libraries are the future of the industry, preferring to simply pay for the vast library and have access to countless titles as opposed to buying each individual game they wish to play. The downside of this preference is gamers often forego pre-order bonuses or Deluxe Edition content without having to purchase it separately. However, most pre-order bonuses include meager DLC, such as cosmetic items or a few days of early access. Early access is cool, but it’s not a game changer.
With a heavier reliance on Xbox Game Pass to drive fan loyalty and involvement, Xbox Game Studios is certainly looking to up their competitive nature with Sony’s PlayStation Now by giving players more with their subscription. If they add all the titles they promised to Game Pass, XGS will have a solid competitive base in the future, especially with the upcoming launch of Project Scarlett in holiday 2020.
Project xCloud, the new baby of Xbox Game Studios that allows fans to play their games on the road, received a bit of the spotlight during the first day of X019. Currently, there are over 50 games from 25 different development partners in the Project xCloud preview program, with more coming over time.
As for the streaming service’s future, it was revealed that Project xCloud will be coming to Windows 10 PCs in 2020 and that XGS is working on bringing it to all portable devices (phones, tablets, etc.). While this was already touched upon previously, the explicit articulation of this goal received a round of applause from the conference’s attendees.
However, some fans hesitated when it was revealed that Project xCloud would support use of the Sony Dualshock controller. Granted, this hesitation is probably the result of the rivalry between Xbox and PlayStation, but the takeaway is that Project xCloud will support use of multiple Bluetooth controllers, whether those controllers are a Sony product or Razer.
Moreover, Project xCloud’s preview will be extended to Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and India sometime next year, thereby increasing the pool of people testing the service.
A partnership with EA was announced during the Project xCloud segment, revealing that Xbox Game Studios and the publisher will be working together to bring many of EA’s games to the service. Madden NFL ’20 is already available on Project xCloud as of X019, with three more EA games slated to arrive in the coming months.
With the imminent launch of Google Stadia, Project xCloud appears to be Microsoft’s answer to streaming games, either on the go or from the comfort of one’s own home, to compete with Google’s debut gaming console. Furthermore, with Project xCloud bringing portability to Xbox, it allows XGS to compete with the likes of the Nintendo Switch. Fans being able to play their games on the go brings rhapsodic elation to those who don’t want the hassle of having to bring their bulky console with them when they travel.
However, the partnership with EA is cause for concern. While EA has decades of experience publishing games and producing some titillating games in the past, their recent track record has proven to be a roller coaster of one high for every six lows. Anthem, Mass Effect: Andromeda, the repetitive nature of the Madden franchise, Need for Speed’s relative decline, and their controversial decisions surrounding an abundant use of microtransactions has made gamers’ faith in the publisher a dubious proposition at best.
Exclusives in Production
One of the most promising aspects of X019 was the reveal of several Xbox exclusives in production from multiple developers under Xbox Game Studios. When it comes to its presence in the industry, one place Xbox has lagged both PlayStation and Nintendo is in the realm of exclusivity. Fortunately for fans, XGS is increasing their presence in the exclusivity market with at least eleven different games in production.
One of these exclusives is Everwild, the new IP from Rare Studios—the developer behind Sea of Thieves. The game is flush with colorful forest scenery, diverse wildlife, and human forest-dwellers; it hints at a symbiotic relationship between humans and some of the title’s wildlife, while offering a glimpse of some possible tensions between humans and more aggressive predators.
Since E3 2019, Xbox Game Studios has promised more exclusives for their brand, and the acquisition of several developers—including Team Ninja, who is currently working on Bleeding Edge—has propelled them to the forefront of the everchanging exclusives economy. With several more individual projects on the way, Xbox’s future appears to be measured in long-term success.
A Great Franchise Returns
Among the most enthusing elements of X019 was the gameplay trailer of Age of Empires IV, at long last terminating the silence that has surrounded the project since its announcement in 2017. This taciturnity left fans mystified, as the two-decade-spanning RTS series is beloved by gamers and historical fiction lovers alike.
XGS even announced the creation of a new studio whose sole responsibility would be handling all matters related to Age of Empires—from the fourth game’s development to the release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on Xbox One and Windows 10. This studio is called World’s Edge. Seeing how the series has evolved since its debut in 1996, or even since the release of Age of Empires III in 2005, is a glorious sensation, leaving long-time lovers of the languorous RTS line lauding lavishly.
Age of Empire IV’s units, based on the gameplay trailer, look detailed and authentic for the Medieval period. The game’s physics appear impressive, as walls seem to crumble before collapsing into rubble as opposed to the past’s outdated 2D slideshow. While Age of Empires II is still an incredible experience by any measure, one cannot deny the great strides the development team has made in the years since the franchise’s inception.
With the Mongols and English as two of the fourth installment’s debut factions, fans should be eager to see how unique each civilization’s units appear in the finished product. Regardless of how far off the release date for Age of Empires IV is now, fans should be relieved that the project isn’t dead.
The Xbox’s track record for owning the show when it comes to the gaming industry has been neither outstanding nor dismal. The brand has had its fair share of popular exclusives, such as the Halo, Gears of War, and Fable franchises, but fell behind that niche for several years. XGS is now trying to rededicate itself to remedying that fault, though, the success of that endeavor will only be determined by time and proper execution.
With the increasing functionality and popularity of Xbox Game Pass and the looming streaming behemoth that is Project xCloud, XGS is gearing up to make Xbox players’ choice home console and mobile entertainment software. Adding an abundance of games to Game Pass—some of which used to be PlayStation exclusives—while also making them playable from any Project xCloud-compatible device gives Xbox the stockpile it needs to continue being a heavy-hitter in the gaming industry.
Couple exclusivity, Game Pass, and Project xCloud with the return of a real-time strategy series fans have sorely missed, and Xbox’s future will be flying high for the foreseeable future. Provided XGS executes their plans in a reasonable timeframe and with minimal bugs in the process, the Xbox brand will find itself returning to a prime contender for the video game industry’s crowning jewel.
Overall, X019 had the impact XGS needed to get back in the game, facing problems like lack of exclusive titles head-on and going one step further to pilfer some of the PlayStation’s former exclusives for themselves. While the conference as a whole wasn’t a dramatic shift from standard procedure for those types of events, there were enough impressive reveals to make X019 stand out from previous years.