There is no doubt that the Xbox One generation has been a rough one for the Xbox brand. After a disastrous reveal, then followed up by games that just didn’t reach expectation. However with all of this being said, since early 2018 Xbox has been slowly but surely fighting its way back. Xbox 2019 was a year full of surprises, big changes to the Xbox brand, and has me very interested in what 2020 will hold for them. Without further ado let’s dive into some of the biggest moments and games for Xbox in 2019.
One game that has always been an eyesore for almost the entirety of the Xbox One generation is Crackdown 3. After being revealed at E3 2014, with the promise of cloud-based destruction better then we had ever seen before. The hype built to critical levels to see what this new technology could change and influence games going forward. Unfortunately, the game was riddled with development issues and suffered from multiple delays. By the time Crackdown 3 released in February of 2019, the game felt dated in terms of its open-world design and ultimately was not the hit that Xbox has hoped it would be. I give Xbox credit, it would have been way easier and cheaper to just cancel the game outright, similar to what happened with Scalebound. However, they stuck with it and released a bug-free product and even went as far as to fully support the game with post-launch content. With games that have done much better out the gate, and have had subpar post-launch support (I am looking at you Anthem) its a breath of fresh air. Xbox supporting a game for the fanbase no matter how small it is something more big publishers and developers should look to.
The Gears of War franchise has always been hit or miss for me in terms of my interest. With that being said, Gears 5 hit it out of the park for me personally. Gears of War 4 had a good campaign but took very few risks in terms of storytelling and character development. However, this all changed with Gears 5 in a monumental way. Characters that seemed uninteresting in Gears of War 4, such as JD and Del suddenly were much more emotionally complicated. The biggest impact came from Laura Bailey’s performance as Kait, which was one of the best performances that we saw this year. Kait’s internal struggles and guilt made her a very intriguing character and the mid-game tie into all the other Gears of War games was brilliant. The Coalition went from making a Gears of War game, to making Gears of War their own. The next installment of the Gears franchise is one of my most anticipated games on the next-generation Xbox.
The Outer Worlds
There is a saying we see frequently on social media “You are only as great as what you have done lately.” This is what happened when Xbox announced the acquisition of Obsidian at X018. Many people on social media and forums announced that this purchase was a waste of resources because Obsidian’s best work was behind them. While there was no doubt that Obsidian was in financial troubles in 2015, with having to resort to Kickstarter to fund Pillars of Eternity. Many saw this as proof that the studio was just to stuck in the past with its game design. The Outer Worlds kicked this notion square in the teeth this year in a big way. The Outer Worlds was a love letter to classic RPG design, the likes of those studios such as Bioware and Bethesda seem to have forgotten about. With a focus on branching character dialogue and a tight RPG experience. Focusing more on replayability and decision making rather than padding out 100 hours of mindless side quests. Not only was critical reception great for The Outer Worlds, but the game also charted at number two on the NPD charts of its launch month. It fell in second place only to the sales juggernaut that is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It has quickly become apparent that Obsidian might be one of the most talented developers that Xbox has acquired in its acquisition frenzy. One of the largest criticisms Xbox faced was lack of RPG content, and it appears Obsidian is more than ready to fill that gap.
E3 is still one of the largest gaming-focused events every year. With everyone tuning in to see the latest gaming reveals and news from their favorite developers and hardware manufacturers. However, E3 2019 had a big curveball thrown into it, and that was the fact that the market leader PlayStation would not be attending E3 in 2019. This put all eyes on Xbox and what kind of show would they bring to the stage without its key competitor being there. Some debated whether or not Xbox should just dump every project they had at the ready, while others said they should hold back and save some announcements for X019. Xbox 2019 stepped up to the plate and swung hard, with a big focus on games and the studios that they had acquired. We saw new looks at games such as Wasteland 3, Bleeding Edge, Minecraft Dungeons, and The Outer Worlds. However, there were 3 things that truly stole the show. The announcement of the acquisition of long-time independent developers Double Fine Productions. This was a jaw-dropping moment because, in all of the supposed “leaks” and “insider” predictions, nobody had predicted this. The next moment was when Keanu Reeves took to the stage after it was revealed that the actor would be in CD Projekt Red’s upcoming game Cyberpunk 2077. While the “You’re breathtaking” spawned a whole load of memes, it cannot be understated how great the trailer looked. The hype that was built for Cyberpunk 2077, with the addition of one of the most beloved actors of this decade. The final big moment was when Microsoft officially announced Xbox Scarlett and that Halo Infinite would be launching with the next-generation Xbox in holiday 2020. This will be the first time that Halo has launched alongside an Xbox console since the launch of the original Xbox back in 2001.
The Xbox Game Pass Effect
Xbox Game Pass has no doubt been one of the most consumer-friendly moves by a console manufacturer in recent memory. Providing a wide variety of titles from AAA massive RPGs such as The Witcher 3, and Kingdom Come Deliverance. All the way to small Indie games such as Void Bastards and My Friend Pedro. Game Pass has been changing the type of games people will not only play but also purchase. The number of times I have seen a game that most people would have overlooked in the Xbox ecosystem say the phrase, “Well, I will give it a shot because it’s in Game Pass.”. As someone who has been a huge vocal lover of smaller titles, and Indie developers, it is great to see so many games get more exposure due to Xbox Game Pass. The focus on getting such a wide variety of titles all in one subscription is massive. Not only did it change how consumers are playing their games, but the service also made the competition rethink its strategy. PlayStation Now underwent massive changes this year. With the price being cut and improved quality focused on the service, no doubt spurred by the sudden surge of Xbox Game Pass. While we don’t know how these services will affect the industry in the long run, right now they are some of the biggest parts of the gaming landscape in 2019.
The Game Awards And The Next Step
There is no doubt that Geoff Keighley has been working hard building up the Game Awards to be bigger and better every year. More developers and publishers are unveiling their biggest games on his stage. This year absolutely took the cake in terms of big unexpected announcements. There were rumors that Xbox had a secret announcement at the Game Awards, while many assumed it was just going to be a new trailer for a game we already knew about. When Phil Spencer took to the stage and revealed not only the Xbox Series X (the next-generation Xbox console), but a sequel to a game that no one ever expected. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II the sequel to Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a mic drop moment for Xbox. This was the kind of game that many including myself had been wishing Xbox to start creating. Gritty, dark and single-player focused games were one of the final boxes that Xbox had in criticism. They answered this with a massive huzzah to end close out their year.
Xbox Heading Into 2020
It has been a long road this generation for Xbox. They persevered and took fan feedback to heart, and slowly but surely have been fulfilling the criticisms from their biggest critics. As someone who has played many consoles and PC for such a long time, it makes me very excited for 2020. Both Xbox and PlayStation are gearing up for big years, and Nintendo should not be counted out either. 2020 is going to be one of the craziest years in gaming.