Microsoft’s fourth-generation Xbox consoles, the Xbox Series X and Series S, are now entering Year 3. And though Year 1 started with a soft launch in the exclusive games department, the second half of this generation’s first year delivered the flood that parched Xbox fans have waited years for. From Forza Horizon 5 to Halo Infinite to Psychonauts 2 to Microsoft Flight Simulator, it sure seemed like the Xbox’s exclusive games drought was finally over [Editor’s note: Whoops!]. Of course, by now you know the story because you lived through it. The whole of 2022 was like a mirage in the desert: you thought you could see water up ahead, but was it really there? As such, 2023 simply must deliver for Xbox gamers who’ve invested so much in the platform. Microsoft is a trillion-dollar company who has seemingly exhausted the patience of its player base. Fortunately, though, there’s reason to be optimistic.
Is X Finally Gon’ Give it to Ya?
The conversation around blockbuster exclusives for Xbox in 2023 begins and ends with Starfield, the first brand-new IP from renowned game designer Todd Howard in decades, and the first game he’s directed at all since Fallout 4 back in 2015. Howard tried to call his shot back in 2020, promising an 11/11/22 release date a full 18 months early. That didn’t work out, but now Starfield is finally almost here, and with apologies to Arkane’s Redfall (which we’ll get to in a moment), Starfield is not just the biggest game to come out of Bethesda since Microsoft bought the publisher for $7.5 billion two years ago, it is, on paper, the kind of exclusive that makes people want to buy into the Xbox ecosystem. And for the millions of players still enjoying the Starfield team’s own Skyrim, there’s good news: Starfield just might be Skyrim in Space, which should be welcome news for millions of Elder Scrolls fans who’ve been waiting over a decade for the sixth installment of that venerable series.
But Starfield will have to wait until closer to the middle of the year, at least. All indications are that the aforementioned Redfall will be released first. The four-player vampire-hunting co-op first-person shooter looked downright delightful the last time we saw it and got a giant info dump from co-creative director Harvey Smith, and it should help ease the sting of watching Bethesda’s last two major releases – Arkane’s own delectable Deathloop and Tango Gameworks’s solidly strange Ghostwire: Tokyo – get released as PlayStation 5 exclusives as part of a deal Bethesda signed with Sony prior to the Microsoft acquisition. Fortunately, Deathloop is now on Xbox Game Pass and Ghostwire should follow when its one-year window of PlayStation exclusivity expires in March. Arkane has always made devilishly smart games – Hall of Fame game designer Warren Spector calls them immersive sims – that have tended to earn more critical acclaim than commercial success. Given the evergreen success of vampires in pop culture, perhaps Redfall will finally be the game that checks both boxes for the studio.
Also expected in the first half of 2023 is Forza Motorsport, the next-gen-only reboot of Xbox’s long-running simulation racing game series. As great as the first seven Motorsport entries have been, Horizon has arguably become the better Forza over its five iterations. It’s also got wider appeal. Thus, Motorsport will need to dig deep into its simulation-based history to raise the bar above its raucous sibling once again. What’s been shown so far has been gorgeous – not to mention developer Turn10 Studios has taken ample time in rebuilding the game from the ground up, as Forza Motorsport 7 released all the way back in 2017 on Xbox One. The developers of Forza Motorsport have never failed to deliver, so racing game fans have good cause to be excited when this reboot drops.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a huge impact on the video game industry, and two major Xbox exclusives slated for release last year were pushed back to account for the war encroaching on developers’ literal doorsteps. Triple-A first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl, from Ukraine-based studio GSC Game World, is the most high profile of the games whose development timelines have been affected. The survival-horror shooter will hopefully land on Xbox Game Pass in 2023 and whenever it does, it will have the entire gaming community rooting for its success.
The same can be said for startup studio Sad Cat Studios, who had to relocate for the team’s own safety due to the invasion. Work on Replaced has resumed and it too will hopefully ship in 2023 as an Xbox exclusive. It’s a cyberpunk thriller with gorgeous 2.5D pixel art set in an alternate-reality 1980s, and it was a standout title in its debut at Xbox’s 2021 showcase event. Keep an eye on this one!
More recently, Xbox’s 2022 Showcase promised more exclusives in 2023. Minecraft Legends is an action-strategy game that stands to do well with the casual crowd but is unlikely to move the needle for core gamers. Instead, the biggest move Xbox is making in both 2023 and beyond – and right now the most fascinating grab-your-popcorn soap opera of recent times – is Microsoft’s attempted acquisition of Activision-Blizzard. As Sony and Microsoft take hilarious turns trying to appear more meek and feeble than the other in front of the regulatory boards in a bid to push the deal forward or stop it completely, the on-the-ground reality for Microsoft is, if the deal does go through, the company would suddenly bring Blizzard’s 2023 powerhouse sequel, Diablo 4, to Xbox Game Pass. The Call of Duty exclusivity situation is a whole other matter entirely, but getting a new Diablo onto Game Pass would be a huge win for Xbox.
Even if you set aside the Activision-Blizzard drama, Microsoft still has a number of exclusives that have previously been announced that could land in the latter half of 2023. The gorgeous Unreal Engine 5-powered psychological thriller Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 from renowned developer Ninja Theory seems like the most probable candidate of the lot. Avowed is tougher to gauge, since we haven’t even seen a gameplay trailer from it yet, but Obsidian has already delivered one 10/10 game as an Xbox exclusive, and Avowed could be the perfect way to satiate Skyrim fans while the wait for The Elder Scrolls 6 continues. Could it sneak in at the end of 2023? Possibly, though it could depend on where in the calendar Starfield ends up landing.
Perfect Dark, Fable, The Outer Worlds 2, Contraband, and Gears 6 all seem unlikely to sneak in before the Xbox Series X’s third year comes to a close, but hopefully we’ll at least see something tangible from each of them. More concretely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or more of State of Decay 3, Indiana Jones, and Everwild lands on your console sooner than expected. The bottom line, though, is that it is well past time for Microsoft to deliver blockbuster exclusives to its fans.
All of those games will come with $70 price tags, as Microsoft finally joined most of the rest of the major publishers in the industry at raising its game prices from $60. Fortunately, many Xbox gamers won’t really feel any effects of that, since all of those first-party games launch directly into Xbox Game Pass, whose monthly price is (for now) unchanged.
Hardware and Services
On that note, Xbox Game Pass has become so successful it’s now a meme, which is probably the best-case scenario Microsoft could’ve hoped for when they spun up the service back in 2017. The thing is, though, the meme don’t lie: Xbox Game Pass really is the best deal in gaming, and 2023 should deliver not just the first wave of overdue first-party exclusives, but also continued third-party value as well. Though no formal announcement has been made yet, it’s reasonable to expect MLB The Show 23 to return to the service on launch day. So too will indie darling Hollow Knight: Silksong, the Vin Diesel vehicle Ark 2, promising soulslike Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn, intriguing farming sim Lightyear Frontier, moody platformer The Last Case of Benedict Fox, and quirky action-adventure Ravenlok. And that’s just what’s expected in the first half of the new year. More are inevitably coming.
Meanwhile, Xbox Cloud Gaming continues to quietly evolve and integrate into the Xbox ecosystem via Game Pass, there are deals to be had on the Xbox Series S, and oh yeah, you can now actually find and purchase an Xbox Series X at many stores without too much hassle. And once you do have the console in-hand, you can now order a custom Xbox Elite controller in the Xbox Design Lab, further personalizing your Xbox experience.
Ultimately, 2023 is a year of serious promise for Xbox, but it comes with an understandable sense of urgency from Xbox owners. Microsoft has seen its stable of first-party studios grow immensely over the past several years, rectifying a series of mistakes that compounded during the Xbox One generation. Players have been patient, but at this point, Microsoft has exhausted any goodwill it had remaining. In short, it’s time to put up or shut up. Fortunately, all indications are that, like the 2016 Chicago Cubs, this is finally going to be the year.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s a North Jersey guy, so it’s “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.
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