Halo Infinite

The alternating pattern of first party announcements will continue this week, as Microsoft sets its Xbox Series X showcase for Thursday.

The pre-recorded show will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday on various streaming outlets, including YouTube and Twitch. Don’t expect any pricing announcements, launch date information or pre-order schedules. Aaron Greenberg, head of Global Product Marketing for Xbox, stated on Twitter that this show is all about games and games only.

“I know everyone is excited for Xbox Games Showcase ... Thursday,” he said in a tweet. “Seen some wild expectations, so, if helpful, this show has one focus, games. No business, devices or similar news, just games. A whole show about hour-long focused on games.”

While that may be disappointing news for some, as we still don’t have any sort of pricing information, launch date windows or launch game lineup, when Microsoft has confirmed a release of later this year. Sony is in the same boat, as it seems both manufacturers are playing a game of chicken to see who will announce their console information first.

On the other hand, it’s about time we get a good look at Microsoft’s first party offerings. The much-hyped “Inside Xbox” third-party showcase in May was underwhelming, at best. Sony offered their own games showcase last month, and showed some impressive titles, but still didn’t capture the zeitgeist leading up to launch as they had hoped. So this is Microsoft’s opportunity to flex their muscles and show off the hard work of the 15 studios they have under the umbrella.

Leading that charge of new first party titles will be 343i’s “Halo Infinite.” The title has been in development since 2015, and has supposedly undergone some major changes in response to the community’s reaction to “Halo 5: Guardians.” A short gameplay glimpse at E3 2019 wowed fans — current and lapsed alike — and teased a return to the more classic franchise artstyle. Comments from developer 343i have indicated “Halo Infinite” will be much more in line with entries developed by franchise creator Bungie Studios, rather than the somewhat controversial “Halo 4” and “Halo 5” developed under 343i.

Microsoft has already started the hype campaign for “Halo Infinite,” tweeting a gif of someone repairing Master Chief’s armor, showing his famous 117 number, alongside the phrase, “Your legend makes it more than just a number.” The title is slated to launch alongside the Xbox Series X, and will also be available on the Xbox One and PC.

Other games in Microsoft’s first-party lineup remain a complete mystery. Ninja Theory is working on “Hellblade 2,” which we’ve already seen a short preview of during the 2019 Video Game Awards. The developer recently revealed the game is being built on Epic’s Unreal Engine 5, which itself is still under development. So don’t expect this game until 2021, at the earliest.

Playground Games, developers of the “Forza Horizon” franchise, expanded in the last couple of years by opening a second studio in the United Kingdom. This new team is currently working on an RPG, which many believe to be a reboot of the “Fable” series. The game has been in development for at least two years, so Thursday’s showcase will be a great opportunity to finally get a look at the new title. Playground Games is one of the best developers in the industry, so to see them branch off beyond the extremely fun “Forza Horizon” series will be interesting.

Rare is still hard at work creating new content for “Sea of Thieves,” the online co-op pirate adventure. That game has become a surprise hit after a rocky start. It will almost certainly receive some sort of Xbox Series X patch for improved graphics and performance. But beyond that, the studio is working on “Everwild,” which debuted last year. Not much is known about it, other than it features a whimsical creative vibe with some impressive visuals.

Microsoft’s newest development studio, “The Initiative,” is currently hard at work on what the publisher has called its first “AAAA” title, whatever that means. Located in Santa Monica, Calif., this new studio has become sort of a “Magnificent Seven” of talent, poaching individuals from Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica and others from across the industry. Whatever the talented individuals at the studio are working on is still at least two years off, but there’s a good chance it could be a reboot of “Perfect Dark,” which would combine action espionage in a mixture that hasn’t been seen in the industry in some time. Microsoft has been coy about whether we’ll see the first glimpse at The Initiative’s work, but it will only be a CG trailer, at best.

There’s a lot to be excited about in regards to the Xbox Series X and Microsoft’s gaming future. The company has the most to prove out of the big three, and this could be the opportunity to highlight some quality software. The ongoing focus on Gamepass could offer fans a great mixture of big-budget first-party titles, alongside smaller, more focused experiences. Seriously, where is “Battletoads,” already? Everyone knows what will come from Sony and Nintendo, as they have carved out their own paths forward. Microsoft is still an enigma at the moment. Hopefully, that feeling passes after Thursday.

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

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