So much has been said about the failings of the Xbox One, but in truth, it feels as though it was Microsoft's most important generation yet.
The company's hubris led to a downfall, and that downfall led to a change in leadership, ideology, and tactics. Sure, Sony is on top again this console generation, but Microsoft is starting to reap the rewards of seeds that were sown years ago.
Microsoft Doesn't Have Games, But It Has Everything Else
Xbox Game Pass began life on February 28, 2017. In the four years that have followed, the service has become just as much a part of the Xbox brand as the consoles themselves.
Microsoft began dropping first-party titles into the Game Pass library on day one almost a year later, and since then subscribers have been able to jump into the likes of Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, and Sea of Thieves on day of release. Sure, some of those aren't system-sellers, but they don't need to be.
As for third-party offerings, this month will bring Octopath Traveler, previously a Switch exclusive, to Xbox and PC as part of Game Pass, and Square Enix's Outriders is dropping on day one on April 1st. In March alone, there are over thirty games arriving on the service, the usual monthly offering bolstered by Microsoft flexing its new Bethesda Games back catalogue and EA Play bringing titles like Star Wars: Squadrons.
If you buy an Xbox One today or can get your hands on an Xbox Series S/X, you may never need to buy a new game again. Microsoft has even been leaning on Japanese franchises that have traditionally been found on PlayStation – Xbox owners had the chance to jump into multiple Final Fantasy games recently, many for the first time, while almost the entirety of the Yakuza franchise can be found, too.
If you have a gaming PC, then your benefits are, ostensibly, doubled. You'll find big sellers like Football Manager 2021, excellent third-party titles like Battletech, and every Halo game short of Halo 5 among plenty others.
While Xbox Game Pass may be what pulls new users in, there's plenty to keep them invested, too.
Backward compatibility on Xbox Series X means you can run the next-gen version of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla and put the game in a "quick resume" state and swap to something like Ori and the Blind Forest, then onto Fallout 3 and a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. No classic console required, no changing inputs in your TV – it's a video gaming time machine, and it's wondrous.
Perhaps the most magical part of playing these older titles is the boost they get from the latest generation of hardware. FPS boost, a new initiative, brings games like Dishonored: Definitive Edition and Prey kicking and screaming into 60 FPS territory. It's not foolproof, but with auto HDR on some titles, and an improvement in loading times, it's the best way to play most of these titles.
The platform itself is also in a state of constant evolution. While the Xbox One's dashboard was clunky, it's taken on a snappier, more responsive feel on new hardware – partially through added grunt, and partially through constant revisions and updates. There's still a lot going on, but with smart additions like supercharging download speeds by putting games into a suspended state, it feels as though Microsoft really sees the Xbox console as just as much an iterative platform as its Windows PCs.
The elephant in the room, or perhaps more specifically conspicuous by its absence, is Xbox's lack of big games. Fans of Microsoft consoles were stuck looking jealously at PlayStation owners last generation as Sony swept awards and hearts with huge new exclusives each year.
Microsoft has Halo Infinite on the horizon and Series S/X optimised versions of Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 in its back pocket, but the good news is that it appears the floodgates will open – one day. Microsoft now has a huge portfolio of first-party studios with a huge variety of projects incoming in the next few years. Not a fan of Halo? That's fine, check out Fable 4. Not so keen? Bethesda's next Elder Scrolls could be what you're looking for.
While it certainly feels like Microsoft's console is lacking in big-name exclusives, make no mistake – Xbox is here to stay, and its playing to win.