THE WASHINGTON POST – Microsoft’s held its annual “celebration of all things Xbox” in London recently. Despite hopes for more information on the next Xbox – the still-codenamed Project Scarlett – no new information on the next-generation console, expected in holiday 2020, had been released at the time.
Instead, Microsoft touted its popular USD10-per-month Game Pass subscription service, which allows Xbox and PC players to download games from a rotating roster of more than 100 titles, including first-party games at launch. The service is central to the new Xbox’s identity, as Microsoft works to carve out a space for itself among its video game cloud service competitors. Microsoft hopes players will pair the Game Pass service with its upcoming xCloud service, which will allow Xbox One-quality games to be streamed and played on smartphones and tablets.
Project xCloud’s public preview, available for the past month in the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and South Korea, has added than 50 new games available for preview, including Devil May Cry 5, as well as a whole suite of first-party titles, like Gears 5 and the Halo series. Many of those games are capable of 4K resolutions while running at 60 frames per second, and should be a heavy test on xCloud’s capabilities.
Project xCloud also plans to expand to Canada, India, Japan and Western Europe in 2020, and will be adding support for more controllers, including the PlayStation 4′s DualShock 4 controller.
At the event, Microsoft shared more information – including the game’s first gameplay trailer – about the highly-anticipated Age of Empires IV from studio World’s Edge. Along with the announcement, a 4K-enabled remastered version of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition was made available on Game Pass, Windows 10 and Steam.
Some new first-party titles were shown off, but the game that’s likely to generate the most buzz is more than nine years old. Yes, Halo: Reach is finally coming to Xbox One and PC. Considered by many fans to among be the best in the series, Halo: Reach was creator Bungie Studios’s last title with Microsoft before they moved on to create the Destiny franchise.
Now with six games, Halo: The Master Chief Collection can be bought for USD39.99; Halo: Reach can be bought separately for USD9.99. The entire collection is available for free to Game Pass subscribers.
Microsoft also announced a small new game from Obsidian Entertainment called Grounded, a first-person, cooperative survival game with “narrative and RPG elements.” Obsidian, fresh off the critically acclaimed The Outer Worlds, was acquired by Xbox Game Studios last year.
Players will be shrunken to the size of an ant and asked to survive in a suburban backyard, using everyday objects to gather and build bases and search for resources. Obsidian calls Grounded a “true passion project” being built by a small team.
“RPGs like The Outer Worlds will always be in Obsidian’s DNA, but from time to time we want to stretch our creative muscles and try things that might be a little different,” said Mikey Dowling, Obsidian’s spokesman, in a statement.
Grounded will launch in spring 2020, and will also be made available via the popular Xbox Games Pass subscription service.
Rare Studios also announced a new game, Everwild. Almost no details were shared, since the game is still early in development, but Rare promised players “new ways to play in a natural and magical world.”
We also saw the first trailer for Tell Me Why, a story about twin siblings grappling with memories of their troubled childhood. Coming Summer 2020 from DONTNOD Entertainment, it will follow the narrative, chapter-based storytelling of the studio’s previous award-winning series, Life is Strange.
Finally, Microsoft is making a big push to sell more Xbox consoles. For Black Friday, the Xbox One X console will be USD150 cheaper. For USD349, that’s actually a good deal for what is still the premium console experience in 2019, with more games achieving 4K images and fast performance than on the PlayStation 4 Pro.
The digital-only Xbox One S console will be on sale for USD149.99, and comes with Minecraft, Rare’s Sea of Thieves, and, of course, Fortnite Battle Royale.
It remains to be seen how much of this infrastructure will support the next Xbox. This console generation ends on a low note for Microsoft: The Xbox brand was king during its 360 days, but fell behind on the next generation, selling less than half the install base of the dominant PlayStation 4. Still, Microsoft is making sure there are more than enough ways to be an Xbox player for the next few years. Sooner or later, we’ll just need to see more actual games.