2017 was a year of ups and downs for Microsoft’s console arm. On the one hand they released the Xbox One X, deservedly taking the PlayStation Pro’s thunder as the most powerful games console ever built, and all jammed into a stunningly small form factor as well, but on the other hand they fell behind in the race that matters most: exclusive games. They lost a number of high profile titles to cancellations and delays, and ultimately watching Sony and Nintendo romp home with the year’s gaming accolades.
They’ll be hoping then that 2018 is going to be something of a turnaround, and so are we. This list is one of the more speculative in our Ones to Watch, as we gamble on Microsoft’s most steadfast franchises returning. Really the company needs to invest heavily in first and second party developers and games over the next few years, and the truth of the matter is that many of these projects will be several years in the making.
Sea of Thieves
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: 20th March
You have to wonder whether Microsoft feel as though they’ve had their money’s worth out of Rare. When they bought the studio it was at the apex of the development world, having become known for vibrant, fun games that at times gave Nintendo’s first-party games a run for their money. While there have been high points in the intervening years – Viva Piñata remains an undying favourite, and Rare were one of the few to truly master Kinect – nothing has shone quite as brightly as those created in their N64 hey-day.
Sea of Thieves could be the game to change all that, with a gloriously piratical adventure that’s focussed on playing with others. You’ll have to work together if you’re going to successfully navigate the sprawling open world – well, open sea – and take on other crews in a bid for the booty, and the bragging rights.
It’s only a couple of months away from release, having just come out of its technical alpha testing that ran all through last year. There’s a closed beta test at the end of this month, leading into the full game release in March. Here’s to a rip-roaring pirate adventure you never knew you needed.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: TBA
Ori and the Blind Forest is still a tear-jerking tour de force, causing me to well up on more than a few occasions either because of something amazingly beautiful or cripplingly sad. In the case for video games as art, this certainly ticked a lot of boxes and was rightfully rewarded for it with great sales numbers and awards to boot.
As a Metroidvania game, it has some moments of frustration, but also moments where careful exploration uncovers secrets and trinkets that are well worth the effort. It was alas no means perfect, but having another bash and learning from the relatively minor mistakes of the predecessor gives the sequel a great chance of pulling off what Uncharted 2 managed to do.
Not that we know a heck of a lot about Ori and the Will of the Wisps beyond the trailer that has some apocalyptic imagery together with the tenderness of Ori embracing an owl chick that lost its mother. However, there’s a chance that the visual quality shown in the trailer is in-engine, which has me excited as it’s frankly gorgeous to look at. Here’s hoping it’s as stunning to play as that trailer looks, and equally that the game is on track for this year.
State of Decay 2
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: 2018
State of Decay was something of a surprise hit on the Xbox 360, not the least as an indie title from a new studio, but also because it was great despite being technically a bit shonky. Even the Xbox One remaster ran like a dog if you tried to go anywhere in a vehicle, but the thing that Undead Labs nailed first time out was in creating an apocalyptic zombie survival experience that just felt right.
Scavenging your way from house to house, trying to gather resources for your small community of survivors, all the while aiming to steer clear of the undead, often had you on the edge of your seat. The drama of the overarching story kept you engaged with the people around you, and it looks as though the developers are going for the “bigger is better” approach to sequels.
Early trailers already show a game that is vastly superior to its predecessor technically, with the Xbox One X offering 4K, HDR visuals which is sure to please owners of the uber-console. There’s also the new ability to play in co-op with up to four friends, while there’s even more emphasis on tailoring your home base, and levelling up your survivors. If it hangs together as well as the first one did, Xbox One gamers are in for a treat this year.
Forza Horizon 4
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: Let’s wait for it to be announced…
An attempt at detective work that borders on the bleeding obvious, Forza is a yearly franchise alternating between Forza Motorsports and Forza Horizon. We had a mainline Forza entry in 2017, so by rights we should be getting a brand new Forza Horizon game by the end of November.
There were a few rumblings that number 3 didn’t push the boundaries quite as much as the previous two games, but there’s no denying that it remains one of the best open-world racers out there. It’s hard to know where Playground Games will go with their next title, beyond the inevitable 4K, HDR presentation for Xbox One X, but there’s little doubt that it’ll be a phenomenal racer, if it’s coming this year.
Then again, if Microsoft would rather give us a new Project Gotham instead, I’d be fine with that.
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: 2018
Crackdown 3 was here last year, and the year before that, and, yes, the year before that. Oh, and the year before that. It remains one of Microsoft’s most bitter losses from the release schedule in 2017, as the theory was that it’s destructive action would be a showcase for the Xbox One X’s graphical oomph. Forgetting that it was the original poster child for cloud processing, right at this moment we have no idea what Crackdown 3 will include, but there’s a distinct feeling that Sumo Digital and Reagant Games have been handed an unenviable task.
Read our hands on impressions from Gamescom here.
The first two Crackdown games were a lot of fun, and though I couldn’t tell you what the stories were about – gangs in the first one, zombies in the second? – leaping about the world collecting upgrade orbs while firing rocket launchers at multiple enemies was tough to beat. Our hands on impressions showed why it needed to be delayed, and hopefully that’s helped to create something that captures more of the fun of the original. Microsoft could really do with this being a surprise success.
Platforms: Xbox One, PC – Release date: Another big guess for 2018
Just as with Forza Horizon 4, Halo 6 hasn’t been announced yet and so we have no idea that it’s coming out in 2018, but I’ll eat my orange Splatoon Inkling hat if it doesn’t show up sooner or later. Halo 5: Guardians arrived at the tale end of 2015, so presumably 343 Industries will have been tinkering away on its sequel ever since. Again, Microsoft need some big hitters this year, and Halo remains a bankable star amidst a steadily decreasing roster of exclusives.
We can expect the continuing story of Master Chief, though fans will be hoping for something a bit meatier than 5 offered, without those levels where you briefly wander around talking to people. Multiplayer will of course play a huge part of the experience, especially with 343 having confirmed that their next Halo game would see the return of split-screen multiplayer. Competitive multiplayer and Warzone will almost certainly return, but it’ll be interesting to see what influence other games in the multiplayer field have on it. 100 player Halo battle-royale anyone?
That’s the end of a rather speculative and dry Xbox One edition of Ones to Watch. Here’s hoping Microsoft have more than a few surprises up their sleeves to announce for this year.