What’s going on with Xbox?

Let me just state again for the record, I have no side in the so called ‘console wars’ between fans of Playstation and Xbox. I believe that their refusal to accept the other and stick so rigidly to their own beliefs is narrow-minded and ultimately detrimental to gaming as a whole. However, I’m genuinely starting to get concerned with Xbox, particularly with regards to their list of exclusive titles.

About two years ago I wrote a post talking about how they were going to have a make-or-break Christmas and I’m glad that they did in fact make decent improvements in the sale of both consoles and games that year. Moving on, it’s now 2018 and both the PS4 and Xbox One are reaching the end of their respective life cycles. We’re already past the ‘slim’ version of the consoles and onto the more powerful, higher-resolution versions which is a clear indicator that soon there will be another generation of Sony and Microsoft devices for us to spend ridiculous amounts of money on. I’m sticking with my regular PS4 that I bought with Killzone: Shadow Fall and my special edition Halo 5 Xbox One until the end though, I really don’t see the benefit in forking out another 300 for a marginally better version. Especially because I don’t have a 4k TV.

The reason I’m starting to worry about Xbox is that my console has a deep layer of dust upon it and the last game I bought for it was Madden 17. I haven’t used the device as a gaming machine in a long, long time, while my Ps4 gets a daily run out, and my Switch is always in the bag I take to work in case I have a really bad morning and need to play some Zelda at lunch.

Why?

“Why?” is the question indeed. Why haven’t I been using my Xbox One? Is it because the controllers no longer pair with the console? Is it because the wireless has stopped working and I need a thick, black ethernet cable to plug it in? Nope, I like cables – I’m old school. It’s because there hasn’t been a game I’ve wanted to play that was ONLY on Xbox for what feels like an eternity. Now, I won’t deny that what has triggered this thought is simply two things. The first, is that Playstation exclusive God of War is an absolute masterpiece. It’s not quite a perfect game, but it’s one of the best virtual worlds I’ve explored in the last five years. The second, is that Microsoft had the unfortunate accolade of releasing Xbox Exclusive Sea of Thieves within recent memory of God of War‘s release.

Yes, it’s VERY unfair to compare the games to each other as they are both different genres, and one of which has a fairly deserved 18+ rating – but they are both console exclusives. Depending on how you look at the situation, Sea of Thieves is fine. It features some fun multiplayer action and has a large sandbox world with very pretty water effects. However, every item is purely cosmetic, progression doesn’t seem to be a ‘thing’ in-game and, the action itself essentially is three missions which repeat on a loop. Perhaps the nicest thing that I’ve heard it called by people who you can probably group as ‘serious’ gamers was: ‘No Man’s Sea.’

For those who don’t remember, No Man’s Sky was universally poorly received when it game out and heavily critisised for a lack of content and a failure to deliver on the promises that were made prior to release.

Meanwhile, God of War has all but drowned in the floods of mainstream praise, with seemingly every stream, live feed or screenshot featuring something Kratos related – except for the ones who’re still playing Fortnite. Even the most confrontational, die-hard Xbox-only fans must be looking at gameplay footage with some envy that it hasn’t also come to their console. Honestly, God of War is only one example of the point I’m trying to make.

*All scores are based on metacritic aggregates in April 2018*

 

Going back to last year, there’s Horizon: Zero Dawn (89 and 8.3), Gravity Rush 2 (80 and 8.3), Nioh (88 and 8.5), Nier: Automata (88 and 8.8), Persona 5 (93 and 9.1) and Uncharted: Lost Legacy (84 and 8.1) to name a few.

If you Google ‘Xbox Exclusives 2017’ there’s not even a list that comes up, almost as though the internet is ashamed on my behalf for asking that question. Off the top of my head I can think of maybe three: Halo Wars 2, Cuphead and Forza Motorsport 7.

Cuphead (86 from reviewers and 8.5 from the public) was met with universal acclaim. Halo Wars 2 scored a 79 from reviewers, but only a 5.9 from the public and Forza Motorsport 7 scored 86 from reviewers and 5.8 from the public.

For some impartial comparison, let’s take what was – in my opinion – the best game of 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (97 and 8.5).

All the information here suggests that mainstream reviewers tend to be a bit nicer to games than your everyday gamer is. This is to be expected. A lot of advertising on websites which feature game reviews, and other similar content is paid for by large gaming companies. If they pay for their stuff to be there, you can expect a few inflated reviews along the way. For the sake of fairness in this particular instance, ignore the ratings from the reviewers.

On my tawdry list of titles that I can remember, Persona 5 has the highest user rating of 9.1, while Forza Motorsport 7 has the lowest at 5.8. Without reading too much into this, it stands to reason that one of the top Xbox Exclusives in 2017 shouldn’t have a rating that barely scrapes above the mid-point in the mind of the everyday gamer. At least, not in a world where both consoles are competitive in the market.

I’m aware there are other factors

I’m not going to waffle on about what these facts and figures mean or that this proves that Playstation are ‘in the lead’ because such things aren’t for me to decide – and even if they were I have no where near enough information to make such a boastful claim on behalf of either side. However, as someone who believes that great games are produced when someone with a vision is determined to go one better than their contemporaries – regardless of who they are – I’m concerned for Xbox. Have they lost their appeal or touch? Has the console fallen out of favour with developers? Does the Playstation have something fundamentally ‘better’ than the Xbox does?

I’m as curious as I ever was, more so because I recently noticed that Amazon UK had a week (potentially more) leading up to the God of War release wherein you couldn’t buy a PS4 exclusive via the platform. No such problem with cross-platform games or Xbox One exclusives, it was only on Playstation. No matter how hard I Googled, I couldn’t find a definitive answer for why this was, just speculation.

I quietly thought to myself, that maybe this was Xbox’s chance to build some momentum. Of course, then God of War came out and has pretty much won Game of the Year before we got into May. Still, as someone who grew up watching Playstation and Xbox go head-to-head across three generations of consoles I’m unwilling to just let my Xbox sit and collect dust. I WANT them to deliver something spectacular, something that makes me leave my Playstation alone for a while – much like the Switch did when all I desired from life was to spend every second of my day playing Breath of the Wild.

Conclusion

It’s not going to be too much of a surprise if both Sony and Microsoft announce their next generation consoles as 2020 releases, even 2019 wouldn’t surprise me at this point, but I think most gamers can feel the Playstation 4 and Xbox One slowly crawling towards the end of their lives. The further we get into 2018 the more and more games have frame-rate drops on the regular versions of the consoles, and even the enhanced versions are starting to suffer as games get bigger and heavier to run. Before the curtain falls upon these two machines, of which I am very fond, I would like Xbox to give me something that I want to play. Something that’s captivating, enthralling and beautiful with a well-constructed narrative that leaves me wanting to know more about the world. Something more than just an empty sandbox that might as well have a caveat on the case which says: ‘Friends not included.’

What that game will be, or even if it will be this generation, is yet to be seen, but I’m hoping that I’m given a reason to stick with Microsoft until the end of this console’s lifespan, and perhaps find something that can give me some semblance of a suggestion that the future looks bright going into the next decade.

 

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