Just like the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series X turned six months old in May. Separated by just couple of weeks (here in the US at least), you’d think that maybe the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X would be following similar trajectories only six months out from launch. While that may be true in some respects, in others it already feels like the two consoles are walking divergent paths.
One area where the two consoles are still fairly similar is the games department. There isn’t a ton to write home about at the moment on either console, though Sony has been getting the ball rolling on its PS5 exclusives with titles like Returnal and the upcoming Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
While the Xbox Series X lost its major launch title when Halo Infinite was delayed, that is once again on the horizon and is probably going to be one of the biggest launches of the year. Will it be good? That’s the question on everyone’s minds. While Halo Infinite is probably going to sell well at the start regardless of how good it is, last year’s demo and the decision to delay it by a year definitely have some people wondering if Halo Infinite can live up to the hype.
Assuming it is good, then Halo Infinite could very well prove to be the Xbox Series X’s killer app – the game that moves some consoles and drives a ton of Game Pass subscriptions for Microsoft. For now, however, Xbox Series X exclusives are slim for sure.
There are some, but most of them are games from the previous generation that have been upgraded for Microsoft’s new hardware. There’s nothing wrong with that, because I’m sure people are happy to put the extra horsepower of the Xbox Series X to work in games like Forza Horizon 4, but the fact remains that these are older games gussied up for new hardware, not new games made with that hardware in mind from the start. The same is true over on the PlayStation 5 side of things, so even though the new consoles are here, it still very much feels like we’re in the transitional phase.
Enter Xbox Game Pass. This is the time to shine for Xbox Game Pass and shining is exactly what it’s doing. What the Xbox Series X may currently lack in compelling exclusives or true next-generation games it more than makes up for with Xbox Game Pass. While I said in my six-month check in with PlayStation 5 that the PlayStation Plus Collection is a like a curated, perfected restaurant menu and Xbox Game Pass is like an all you can eat buffet, we must consider that sometimes buffets are exactly what you want.
On the whole, I’ve probably spent more time on Xbox Series X than I have PlayStation 5 just because of Xbox Game Pass. I would argue that right now, PlayStation 5 has more compelling games made specifically for it between titles like Returnal and Demon’s Souls, but Xbox Game Pass is offering a lot of value.
Lest we forget Microsoft has also decided to make things interesting by snatching up ZeniMax Media and all of its subsidiaries earlier in the year. In an instant, what was looking like a significant edge for Sony in the realm of exclusives has been matched by Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax. From here on out, major franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and DOOM are all now owned by Microsoft, and Microsoft is definitely going to use those to not only sell Xboxes but also bring swathes of people into Xbox Game Pass.
Sony still has what should be a stellar lineup of exclusives for the PlayStation 5, but it’s clear that Microsoft is not going to be the passive competitor it was in the previous generation. While Microsoft clearly does not have a problem putting its games on other platforms, it’s probably too much to hope that The Elder Scrolls or Fallout will ever see a release on a PlayStation console from here on out, as Microsoft has suggested an exclusive future for the franchises it acquired in its ZeniMax buyout.
While some may have expected Microsoft to focus primarily on Xbox Game Pass as Sony focused on pumping out quality exclusives this generation, it seems that the console wars are back on. Between Xbox Game Pass and this ZeniMax acquisition, Microsoft is going to be the company to watch in the coming months and years, because it’s no doubt going to be making some big moves this generation.
At the moment, though, things are basically business as usual. The Xbox Series X sort of feels like a sequel to the Xbox One or a continuation of the previous generation rather than a completely new console in a completely new generation. There are a few different factors contributing to that feeling. For starters, Microsoft very deliberately made a unified UI for both Xbox Series X and Xbox One, so jumping between consoles is a pretty seamless experience. That’s actually a good thing for those who plan to game on both an Xbox One and an Xbox Series X, but it also means that the Xbox Series X doesn’t really feel distinct until you get in-game and see the differences for yourself.
There’s also the fact that Microsoft didn’t really change the Xbox Wireless Controller in the jump to the new generation. We have a redesigned d-pad that feels like the d-pad on the Xbox Elite Controller, but that’s the biggest change to be found on the new Xbox Wireless Controller. Compare that to the DualSense, which represents a dramatic change in design from the DualShock 4, and the new generation feels a lot more familiar with Xbox.
Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Xbox One controller was one fantastic gamepad, and as the adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dramatic change like what we saw from the DualShock 4 to the DualSense can be a great thing, but there’s something to be said for recognizing when things are good already and committing only to small, deliberate change.
One thing that has changed in a big way and definitely for the better is the storage. In my PS5 retrospective I said that the SSDs in these new consoles are the most exciting thing about the new generation and I will repeat that here as well. Quick Resume on the Xbox Series X is a thing of beauty, and the quick loading times bequeathed unto us by to some really sweet SSD tech will really change the game this generation.
So, while the first six months of the Xbox Series X have definitely been a slow burn, the future looks bright both for Microsoft and Sony. It’s going to be an exciting generation for multiple reasons, and it could be one of the most dynamic hardware generations that we’ve ever seen.