Four years after its current-gen console first launched, Microsoft has released the upgraded Xbox One X. The software giant heralds its latest device in the Xbox One family as “the most powerful console ever”–and its 4K capabilities make Xbox games look better than before. But, with the new console’s release, I’m left wondering which of its games are compelling enough to make me rush out and buy one.
There’s third-party stuff, sure: Assassin’s Creed’s year off has helped remove some of the fatigue surrounding that franchise, and Origins has been well-received. And Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which has been heavily marketed on Xbox, is, mostly, a worthy successor to Shadow of Mordor. But in terms of exclusives, Xbox fans have been left wanting this year.
The delay of Crackdown 3, the only major Xbox One exclusive scheduled to launch around the Xbox One X, has left a gaping hole in the console’s lineup. Combined with an already sparse exclusive release schedule for Xbox One’s holiday season, this offers little incentive to buy an Xbox One X outside of possessing power for power’s sake.
Sea of Thieves was scheduled for launch this year, but now it’s not coming until early 2018. And Scalebound–a relatively niche but much-anticipated game–isn’t happening at all. That leaves Cuphead, Forza Motorsport 7, Super Lucky’s Tale, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (sort of) as Microsoft’s console exclusives for the end of the year. A somewhat uninspiring lineup in itself, it’s also not exactly a serving that makes me want to invest US $499 / £449 / AU $649 on an upgraded console. Of those four games, only Forza feels like one that could meaningfully benefit from the Xbox One X’s greater horsepower: Cuphead is more about style than performance, PUBG looks a little rough on any hardware (as you would expect from an early access game), and as a 3D platformer, Super Lucky’s Tale is not something I feel I desperately need in 60 FPS.
The platform’s growing list of backwards compatibility games—now including original Xbox titles–bolsters its library, too, and that’s a big advantage Microsoft has in the battle against Sony. But it strikes me as a little pointless to buy a brand-new Ferrari only to stick to 30mph roads.
There was a time towards the start of this generation where I believed the Xbox One–despite its problems–had a better exclusive lineup than the PS4. Sunset Overdrive felt fresh, Halo 5 was superb, Titanfall reinvented the FPS formula, and the Forza Horizon series is a joy compared to the more stilted Gran Turismo. The selection easily outshined a Last of Us remaster, the uninventive Infamous: Second Son, and a dull Killzone: Shadow Fall, and it was what convinced me to buy an Xbox One.
2017, however, has been a different story. Horizon Zero Dawn was an unexpected hit, Yakuza 0 and Persona 5 brought some much-needed variety, and Crash Bandicoot’s N. Sane Trilogy made me nostalgic like only an orange marsupial (or purple dragon) can. Compare that to Xbox’s past year and there’s a clear divide.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t rushed out to buy a PS4 Pro either, so maybe I’m just not the type to want to shell out wads of cash for smallish gains in performance, and perhaps there’s nothing Microsoft could ever do about that. But Sony’s exclusive lineup over the past couple of years–with The Last of Us: Part II on the horizon–made me at least stop and consider it. We don’t know what the next couple of years may hold for Xbox, but we do know at the very least that Naughty Dog’s apocalyptic adventure game is on its way, and that’s likely to be a bigger selling point for PS4 Pro than anything currently announced will be for Xbox One X.
So is there any hope for the Xbox One X?
Possibly. Right now, even if you look into next year, Microsoft’s exclusive roster looks slim. However, the company no doubt has unannounced projects in the pipeline. Halo 6 will come sooner or later, and even if Gears 4 wasn’t as groundbreaking as the games that came before it, the next in the series will surely be a worthy exclusive.
However, it wasn’t just exclusives that helped Sony to dominate this generation: the fact that third-party games often look and run better on PS4 than Xbox One helped, too. With Microsoft’s new console, that will no longer be the case–but with a first-party library looking so thin for now and the majority of gamers without a desperate need for updated hardware, who will buy an Xbox One X?