Like a plant beginning to flower for the first time, the months of July and August feel like a beginning of sorts for the first-party stables for Microsoft and Xbox. It feels like the fulfilment of the exhausted promise that games will be coming. After Microsoft Flight Simulator last month, there’s a steady influx of games still to come this year from Microsoft’s studios including Psychonauts 2, Forza Horizon 5, and Halo Infinite.
Since the dreaded Don Mattrick days, this fightback from Phil Spencer and the teams at Xbox has been a long time coming.
The Xbox One’s launch was disastrous, from messaging to services to software. Despite Mattrick’s previous and exemplary contributions to growing Xbox, this launch was an all-out trainwreck that reverberated throughout the industry, setting the brand back nearly a decade. Mattrick slipped out the back door, clean-handed, to hop companies which led to a nearly year-long, shaky leadership void in the Xbox division. That is until Phil Spencer was promoted to lead the brand forward.
Obviously, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s still been seven long years since Spencer stepped in to strategise, grow, and bring a vision to life.
Since then, Xbox has spent literal billions developing their subscription service Xbox Game Pass, considered to be the ‘Netflix of gaming’, their cloud-streaming initiative, all while acquiring a number of development studios; the first high-profile one being Mojang in 2014.
Here’s a rundown of those studios, what their most recent work is, and what’s next for them as Xbox re-establish itself as a first-party powerhouse.
Recent: Halo 5: Guardians, The Master Chief Collection
Next: Halo Infinite
After its lacklustre showing at E3 2020, its subsequent delay, and the leadership shake-up that saw Chris Lee exit and Joseph Staten return, there’s a lot of curiosity around Halo Infinite.
Although the single-player campaign is still somewhat of an unknown quantity in terms of scope and whether it’ll even launch alongside the multiplayer suite, the multiplayer’s test flight has renewed a lot of people’s hope that Infinite could see a return to form for Halo.
Recent: Gears 5, Gears Tactics
It’s probably safe to say we should expect any new reveals from The Coalition for a while. Having only just confirmed their shift into next-gen development, which includes getting their heads around Unreal Engine 5, their next effort isn’t exactly just around the corner.
In the meantime, expect them to continue their seasonal support for Gears 5.
Though it was the worst kept secret that they were working on a Perfect Dark reboot, seeing Jo Dark once again stood as proof that Microsoft isn’t content with letting their dormant IP die.
Turn 10 Studios
Recent: Forza Motorsport 7
Next: Forza Motorsport
Like with all games we’ve seen in the series thus far, gamers can expect a huge generational leap with this next Forza Motorsport, which is yet to be numbered as ‘8’ leading to a bit of speculation.
That said, the game is currently being playtested so hopefully all of the ray-tracing, lifelike vroom-vrooms aren’t too far away.
Recent: Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition
Next: Age of Empires IV
Through their many partnerships with developers like Relic and Tantalus, World’s Edge has been formed as, above all else, a caretaker for the Age of Empires franchise.
By paying respects to older iterations through comprehensive ‘Definitive Edition’ releases, like Age of Empires III, and pushing the franchise forward with new releases like Age of Empires IV, World’s Edge is doing a great job of keeping the series contemporary.
Recent: Sea of Thieves
No, this isn’t the Rare your mum or dad grew up with.
They’re not in the business of churning out banger Donkey Kong Country titles, nor are they pumping out cracker tie-ins like Goldeneye. I think it’s this dated perception of Rare that perhaps led to the initial slump Sea of Thieves experienced.
In the years since, taking to the high seas has been improved out of sight as Rare has turned Sea of Thieves into a thriving community-focused playspace of piracy that has us curious to see what they do with Everwild, despite its development woes and constant setbacks.
Recent: Minecraft Dungeons
As long as Minecraft keeps printing money, I can’t see that it matters to Xbox what these guys are up to next.
With all of their other, outside the box thinking relegated to game jams at the moment, I’d like to see them put out something fresh and unique and begin to blaze a trail for themselves post-Minecraft.
Recent: We Happy Few
Although their cheerful dystopia of Wellington Wells didn’t quite hit as many hoped. The game suffered from feeling like it was largely unfinished while it boasted undesirable procedural generation that didn’t help its world carve any kind of real identity.
Their eye for strong art direction has me excited to see what they do with Microsoft money, as the rumours surrounding their next game suggest it could be a third-person title set in a near-future Montreal, with a strong emphasis on high production values thanks to Unreal Engine 5.
Hopefully, the rumours of Q1 2022 are also in the ballpark.
Recent: Wasteland 3
It’s up in the air what inXile could be working on as a follow-up to Wasteland 3, though I certainly wouldn’t say no to a sequel to Torment: Tides of Numenera.
A report from VGC suggests their next title could be a first-person shooter and role-playing game hybrid which, if set in one of their already established dense worlds, could be story-telling dynamite.
Recent: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Next: Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Project Mara
Although most people are anticipating Ninja Theory’s long-gestating follow-up to Senua’s Sacrifice, many won’t know that after their acquisition by Microsoft that the company founded The Insight Project. Born from their work on Hellblade, the initiative is a research and development effort that deals with mental health, as well as the identification and control of negative emotions.
The first game expected from this is Project Mara, which is said to be a grounded representation of mental terror.
Their multiple projects serve to show Ninja Theory is far from a one-trick pony.
Recent: The Outer Worlds, Grounded
Next: Avowed, The Outer Worlds 2
Talk about output, I’m not sure what they’re putting in the drinking water over at Obsidian but they’re showing no sign of slowing after their acquisition by Microsoft.
Having already produced the cute ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Kids’ homage in Grounded, they’re already hard at work on Avowed, their own answer to The Elder Scrolls, which is a bit awkward now, as well as a sequel to The Outer Worlds, which was their answer to Fallout.
Obsidian might be offering the best bang for buck so far out of all of Xbox’s new stablemates.
Recent: Forza Horizon 4
Next: Forza Horizon 5 , Fable
I probably haven’t ever expressed it, but I’m so glad that Forza Horizon exists. As one whose bread isn’t exactly buttered with racing simulators, the fact that this over-the-top spin-off exists to whisk us away to faraway, exotic locales is a bloody treat. The next Mexico-set instalment serves as an important cog in Microsoft’s first-party rollout for the backend of 2021 and people are frothing for it.
Beyond that, the developer is hard at work on their reboot of Fable. After the shuttering of Lionhead, I’m glad the brand is cementing itself as the place for role-playing games while ensuring this IP landed in the hands of a British team who’ll hopefully honour the series’ wicked sense of humour.
Recent: State of Decay 2
Next: State of Decay 3
With its admittedly gorgeous trailer not telling us a heap about the upcoming sequel, it’s probably safe to assume State of Decay 3 will tread much of the same familiar ground.
Players will have to build up a community, scavenge for supplies and survive the looming undead, which now appears to extend to wildlife which is absolutely terrifying.
Next: Psychonauts 2, TBC
With Psychonauts 2 already gold and launching in just a couple of weeks, most people’s sights are already set on what the developer might do next.
Whatever their next project, it’ll be their first to begin its development as an Xbox Game Studios title and with an IP list as long as your arm, there’s an endless possibility of what could be next for Tim Schafer and company. I dream of what they could do with Banjo-Kazooie.
But I’d be equally pleased to see a return of Eddie Riggs, played by the incomparable Jack Black, in a Brutal Legend sequel that’s so long overdue and so bloody deserved it hurts me.
Recent: Prey, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
Next: Deathloop, Redfall
With Microsoft honouring the pre-existing publishing deal with PlayStation for September’s Deathloop, it means that Xbox users are set to be eating damn well next year with two Arkane Studios releases.
Deathloop will unsurprisingly come to Xbox consoles later next year, while we’re also expecting Redfall, a vampiric action-adventure game set in the eponymous town. It looks to maintain that brilliant art direction Arkane is known for and is expected to continue the developer’s commitment to worldbuilding.
Bethesda Game Studios
Recent: Fallout 76, The Elder Scrolls: Blades
Next: Starfield, The Elder Scrolls VI
It became real for most when it was confirmed at this year’s E3 that Starfield would, in fact, release exclusively for Xbox and PC. With that, the realisation that Skyrim is probably the last Elder Scrolls game to grace rival consoles felt like a mic-drop moment that confirmed that Microsoft isn’t interested in playing nice.
With a release date set a confounding eighteen months in advance, every shred of marketing between now and then will serve as a reminder that Bethesda is bought, paid for, and made available by Xbox and Xbox alone.
Recent: Doom Eternal
After the rebirth of Doom, which led to Doom Eternal bringing Hell home to Earth, it’s anybody’s guess what id could have up their sleeve.
All we’ve got to go off at this stage is a number of slightly contradictory rumours. Some believe their next title could be a VR game set in the world of Doom, while others seem to think we’re about to see a female-led Quake reboot.
Either way, perhaps this month’s Quakecon could hold the answer.
It feels as though MachineGames has been absent for a while, despite releasing Youngblood, a pretty underwhelming spin-off to their Wolfenstein series, a couple of years ago.
Though it didn’t do a lot to serve the franchise, it didn’t dent public favour as their follow-up to The New Colossus is still one of the industry’s most wanted sequels. Quite frankly, I’m just keen to see how they one-up the batshit bonkers scene where B.J. had his head grafted onto a super-soldier body after being beheaded on live TV.
Plus there’s the Indiana Jones title that’s being worked on. Not a lot is known about it, but given MachineGames’ penchant for letting us maim Nazis, I’d say that could be on the table.
Recent: The Evil Within 2
Next: Ghostwire: Tokyo
This is another case of Microsoft buying an IP with a pre-existing publishing deal, Ghostwire: Tokyo is likely to be seen on Xbox consoles until at least 2023 as a result of the game’s unfortunate delay into next year.
It doesn’t look to lean as heavily into survival-horror as their past works do, instead opting to focus on movement while marrying karate and magic together to craft the game’s combat. Having Shinichir? Hara on board after working on Doom’s frenetic combat, I’m keen for a trip to Tokyo.
Zenimax Online Studios
Recent: The Elder Scrolls Online
After supporting The Elder Scrolls Online for years and providing aid on other Bethesda projects, it’s anyone’s guess where Zenimax Online Studios go from here.
Their affront to Commander Keen, a weird mobile game, was rightly taken behind the shed and shot, so they’re probably likely settling in for even more road maps and content drops for The Elder Scrolls Online.