Microsoft looks to continue momentum into 22

The post-holiday lull has arrived — that period when everyone returns to work, begrudgingly, and there’s no real good video game releases until at least February. So now is a good time to take a look at what the three main manufacturers have up their sleeves for this new — hopefully more stable — year, and what they should do in order to maintain momentum entering the second full year of this new console generation — Nintendo’s Switch aside. We’ll start with Microsoft and the Xbox Series consoles this week.

Despite what the sales figures currently show, Microsoft has enjoyed a great start to the new console generation. Much like the PlayStation 5, almost every Xbox Series S/X that’s manufactured is sold. One can occasionally find an Xbox Series S on a store shelf, or with an online listing, but they rarely last long. Somehow, Sony has managed to outpace Microsoft in hardware production, leading to increased sales. But neither manufacturer has reached its full potential amid a massive chip shortage that shows no signs of ending any time soon.

This past year was a major turnaround, thanks in no small part to the excellent first party software lineup. Microsoft fielded two legitimate game of the year candidates with “Microsoft Flight Simulator,” which did release a year prior on the PC but made its debut on the Xbox Series consoles this year, and “Forza Horizon 5,” one of the best racing games in recent memory. “Psychonauts 2” finally released after what seemed like a lifetime in development, and was met with major critical success. “Age of Empires IV” resuscitated the franchise and showed classic real-time strategy still has a place in this industry. And then there’s “Halo Infinite,” which surprised many with how good it actually was, despite six years of development and its absolute horrid debut the previous year. Microsoft hasn’t had a first-party software lineup like that in the history of the Xbox.

It’s good to see Microsoft push the focus back to its first party after relying on third party titles for so many years. It’s a strategy that looks to continue in 2022, now that the Bethesda acquisition has been finalized and studios like id Software, MachineGames and Bethesda Game Studios are now wholly owned by Microsoft. That purchase will immediately bear fruit this year with two titles, “Redfall” from Arkane Studios and “Starfield” from BGS — the latter of which is topping many “most anticipated” lists as the first single player RPG from BGS since “Fallout 4” in 2015, and the first new IP since 2004.

“Starfield” is set to be the premier title this year from Microsoft, firmly positioned to release in November, pandemic complications notwithstanding. Not much is known about the game, but expect a major media blowout at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, or whatever media event that potentially replaces it. It will be good to see what BGS has been working on, and whether it’s simply “Skyrim” in space — not that it would be a bad thing — or something more ambitious.

“Starfield” remains the only Xbox Games Studio title with a firm release date for 2022. Arkane’s “Redfall” is slated for summer, but we’ve yet to see any real gameplay, so that date might be on the move. Beyond that, Microsoft’s offerings — at least on paper — seem kind of slim this year. But the year has just gotten started and Microsoft has been more willing to sit on announcements until they’re slightly closer to release, “Perfect Dark” and last year’s “Contraband” reveal aside.

There’s still plenty of other games that could make a 2022 release date. Turn 10 Studios has been hard at work on “Forza Motorsport” for several years now, and the title has been built from the ground up entirely on the Xbox Series hardware. “Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II” debuted gameplay footage at The Game Awards in December, and it looks extremely impressive. No release window was given, but there’s a good chance it could arrive before the end of the year. There’s a good chance MachineGames has been working on something since “Wolfenstein The New Colossus” released in 2017. The studio was announced to be working on an “Indiana Jones” game, but it’s big enough for two teams, and five years would make a good development period for a game to wrap up its “Wolfenstein” series.

But Microsoft’s biggest asset is its Game Pass subscription, which shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Redmond is getting bullish on its deals, enticing many games to launch on the subscription service day one. And these aren’t just smaller, independent titles, but rather major AAA productions like “Outriders” and “MLB the Show 21.” The service keeps expanding and more people continue to sign up, so hopefully, Microsoft continues to pump money into bringing these new experiences day one, as well as pulling some older games out of the closet to breathe new life into them as the year goes on.

Microsoft took a major gamble on the Xbox Series consoles and it seems to have paid off for them. The struggles of the Xbox One era of Microsoft seem to be behind them as the company looks aggressively toward the future. Phil Spencer, Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, has already stated that more studios acquisitions could be in the cards. Beyond that, just getting more games onto Game Pass to help shore up those months in between major first party releases will be just as beneficial. Competition is good in this industry, and Microsoft finally seems poised to carve out a piece of the pie for itself to challenge Sony’s dominance.

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.

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