With Halo: Infinite being delayed, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is now in a tough spot

Microsoft's Xbox Series X video game console.
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Email Twitter: @LaurentGiret Aug 12th, 2020 inFeature Stories | Opinion

Halo: Infinite, which Microsoft announced back at E3 2018 was supposed to be a launch title for the company’s new Xbox Series X console. This would have been a great homage to the release of the original Xbox console back in 2001, which launched with the critically-acclaimed Halo: Combat Evolved. Unfortunately, the game has now been delayed to 2021, with the Xbox team citing unexpected development challenges during this ongoing worldwide pandemic.

Halo: CE and Halo 2 were true system sellers for the original Xbox, and Halo cemented its place as one of the most popular Xbox franchises during the Xbox 360 era. Things started to go sour after Microsoft gave the Halo franchise to a new internal studio named 343 Industries. In 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection had a disastrous launch on Xbox One with matchmaking issues that persisted for years. A year later, Halo 5: Guardians also failed to woo nostalgics of the old Bungie Halo games, and Bungie’s new Destiny franchise has now become a bigger phenomenon than Halo.

Halo: Infinite was supposed to be a return to form, and a technical showcase for the Xbox Series X’s power advantage over the PlayStation 5. Unfortunately, the gameplay demo Microsoft showed at its Xbox Games Showcase last month was disappointing in many aspects. In addition to a divisive art style, we learned after the show that Microsoft actually showed us an old PC build, and that the Xbox Series X version wouldn’t support ray tracing at launch.

Microsoft could not afford to have its next-gen console launching with flagship game that doesn’t meet fans’ expectations, so the company made the right choice by delaying the game to 2021. Unfortunately, that leaves the Xbox Series X with no exclusive games at launch, and that could really hurt sales this holiday season. Microsoft will still be able to count on third-party blockbuster games such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077, but these are cross-gen games that will also ship on current-gen consoles.

Xbox marketing exec Aaron Greenberg tried to do some damage control on Xbox Wire yesterday, emphasizing ”over 100 optimized for Xbox Series X titles” planned for this year, though the list will include more than 40 old games such as Gears 5 and Destiny 2. Again, Microsoft’s big problem is that the Xbox Series X will launch with no real exclusive games, and we still don’t know when the new Forza Motorsport game, State of Decay 2, Hellblade 2, and Fable will be ready for the next-gen Xbox. Even the new Flight Simulator game, which will be released on PC next week on August 18 still has no release date on the Xbox Series X, and this one could have been a potential system seller.

We all remember the troubled launch of the Xbox One back in 2013, and we hope the Xbox Series X won’t follow a similar trajectory. Things actually started pretty well for Microsoft this time around, and the company surprised everyone by announcing the Xbox Series X back in December at The Game Awards. The move likely caught Sony by surprise, and interest for the Xbox Series X definitely continued to increase in the beginning of 2020.

After the Xbox One X beat the PlayStation 4 Pro on raw power, the Xbox Series X also managed to keep its power advantage over the PlayStation 5, with Microsoft hyping new features such as ray tracing over and over in the past few months. However, we have yet to really see the Xbox Series X’s 12 teraflops of computing power in action, and the flagship game Halo: Infinite really failed to do that last month.

To be fair, Sony also didn’t really impress with next-gen PlayStation 5 games so far, but the company doesn’t really need to. The PlayStation 4 outsold its Xbox One rival by a factor of 2:1 during this console generation, and Sony has also managed to increase brand loyalty by releasing critically-acclaimed games year after year. Spiderman: Miles Morales, one of the few exclusives that will ship on PS5 later this is almost guaranteed to be a system seller.

As of this writing, Sony is giving gamers more reasons to buy a PlayStation 5 this holiday season, thanks to its exclusive games. Horizon: Forbidden West, the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn is also coming next year, and this one is also guaranteed to be a system seller. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X will have a couple of cross-platform and cross-gen games optimized for Xbox Series X at launch, but Xbox One owners won’t miss much by playing these games on their existing consoles.

Microsoft has acquired several new game studios over the past couple of years, but none of them will be able to create iconic franchises like Halo anytime soon. As a new console generation is about to begin, the “Xbox has no games” stigma is still persisting. Xbox Game Pass remains a great reason to invest in the Xbox ecosystem, but you don’t need an Xbox Series X to take advantage of it. It’s a good thing that Microsoft is no longer interested in selling more consoles than its competitors, because that’s a game Microsoft can’t win.

Do you think the Xbox Series X will have a better launch that the Xbox One seven years ago, or do you think the lack of real exclusives at launch will could hurt sales in a big way? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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