Oh, how I’ve missed Confident Microsoft. You remember: it’s the version of the tech company that brashly broke into the console industry over 20 years ago, and then muscled its way to a near-draw with the PlayStation 3 thanks to the Xbox 360, aka the perfect console at the perfect time. Thanks to the well-documented and repeated mistakes of the Xbox One era, Microsoft has spent most of the past decade in a defensive stance, back on its heels and frequently apologizing to its customers for screwing up yet again. Even the start of the Xbox Series generation was fraught with supply chain nightmares and a 2022 that sapped every last bit of momentum that a promising 2021 built. And then there was Redfall, but let’s not pick at that scab again, shall we?
Instead, it’s time to celebrate the return of Confident Microsoft, which was on full display at last week’s Xbox Showcase/Starfield Direct double feature (an informal poll on my Twitter shows that most of you agree with that assessment). The first-party publisher is poised to go on an extended winning streak, and kicked that off by booting a chicken clear across the screen in the much-anticipated gameplay sneak preview of Fable, which made it undoubtedly clear that the wizards at Playground Games not only have their own definitive take on this beloved franchise (that Jack and the Beanstalk-esque twist genuinely made my jaw drop), but that the ForzaTech engine is capable of rendering more than just cars in a stunningly beautiful way. This reboot has the potential to make Fable bigger than it ever was, which is saying something.
Microsoft went 3 for 3 to start the show, in fact, finally announcing Compulsion’s new game as the third-person action-adventure South of Midnight, and then delivering the cinematic trailer debut of Massive’s long-awaited third-person open-world Star Wars game, subtitled Outlaws. And they did it without any gimmicks we’ve seen in past years, like “Every game you see here is coming to Game Pass” or “Every game you see here will be out in the next 12 months.” They just effectively said, “Here are a bunch of kickass games we know you’re going to love on our platform. And a lot of it really will be out sooner rather than later, hence the “winning streak” mentioned in the headline of this piece.
If you love role-playing games, there is quite simply no better gaming ecosystem to be a part of than Xbox.
Starfield is going to be a juggernaut. The 45-minute-long dedicated Direct conference won over just about every skeptic by showing off exactly what it’s capable of. I also got to play an hour of it (and I talked to Todd Howard about it afterwards), and, well, let me put it to you this way: it’s like if No Man’s Sky 2 got made, but with an entire next-gen Bethesda Game Studios RPG built on top of it that has no facades or shallow systems. It has everything, and everything has depth, from the character creator to the ship builder to the skill trees to the 1,000 planets to the massive cities to the combat. It’s going to be played and enjoyed for years to come, just as Skyrim and Fallout 4 before it.
In fact, if you love role-playing games, there is quite simply no better gaming ecosystem to be a part of than Xbox. The next several years are absolutely stacked with RPGs, from Starfield this year, Avowed next year, and Fable, Clockwork Revolution, The Outer Worlds 2, and The Elder Scrolls VI all in the pipeline.
Starfield Xbox Games Showcase 2023 Trailer
The latter two weren’t at this Showcase, and in fact it speaks to the strength of Xbox’s current portfolio that they had such a great conference without showing a lot of promising projects we know are cooking, like Indiana Jones, Gears 6, State of Decay 3, Perfect Dark, Everwild, id Software’s next game, etc. The immediate future is lined up with Starfield on September 6 and Forza Motorsport’s next-gen reboot on October 10, and then Avowed and Hellblade 2 following next year. Ukrainian-developed exclusives STALKER 2 and Replaced are also big games to look forward to when those extraordinarily brave development teams are able to get them done, be it later this year or sometime next. And if Microsoft’s Activision-Blizzard acquisition is approved by regulators, the portfolio (and Game Pass) only gets stronger.
The point is, the days of Defensive Microsoft might finally be over, giving way to an exciting future and, more importantly for Xbox fans, an exciting present. Starfield is just over two months away…
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.