There’s no two ways about it: Halo Infinite’s delay is a gut punch for the launch of Microsoft’s next generation plans. I’m not just talking about the Xbox Series X release in November, but their whole vision for an era of subscription led cross-platform gaming. It’s not putting the nail in the coffin for this plan, but at the very least it’s a stumble that puts them at an even bigger disadvantage compared to their biggest rivals.
Ultimately, Halo Infinite’s delay might well be the best decision for the game. The old Shigeru Miyamoto adage that “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever,” might not ring quite so true in the age of live games, DLC and ‘Games as a Service’, but it doesn’t hurt to get things right at the first attempt. Not every game can pull off the recoveries that No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves or Destiny (twice!) have managed and it’s obviously better not having to go through those growing pains.
Still, it leaves Microsoft without a marquee title for the launch of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Streaming, and the release of Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. We’ve been eagerly awaiting the official reveal of Microsoft’s lower powered console, not to mention the announcement of the price of either Xbox or PlayStation 5, but now it’s like one of the teams turning up to the World Cup final is doing so without their star striker. For this winter, at least.
While that’s a big blow for 2020, Microsoft are playing the long game. After promising that all their first party games for the first year or tow of the next-generation would be cross-generational, they rocked up to their Xbox Games Showcase with a bunch of rendered concept trailers for games that would be exclusive to Xbox Series X. From Forza Motorsport, to Fable, to Avowed, these are games that are at least a year away and Microsoft was seemingly going to have to rely on third parties for quite some time anyway.
That said, Xbox fans aren’t entirely bereft of other games to look forward to this year, of course, and Xbox Series X will provide advantages across a wide range of games. In first party titles, there’s the prospect of Gears Tactics and maybe Microsoft Flight Simulator – OK, so ports of months old PC games might not be particularly exciting, but I’m looking forward to them on console nonetheless. As we come to the end of the year, let’s be honest that this November is going to be all about Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the next Call of Duty for an awful lot of people.
In fairness, Microsoft aren’t really alone here. Outside of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales being a launch title and the bundled Astros’ Playroom, do we really have any idea of when all of those first party games from the PlayStation 5 showcase will be released alongside the console? Sony have a big, hugely popular tent pole release to market, but there’s lingering doubts over just how big an experience it’s going to be, as it builds on the foundations of the 2018 PS4 exclusive. The difference is that the overall perception is of Sony having fistfuls of games that are ready to go through the PS5’s first year.
For Xbox, the concern is that without that one big system seller, those thinking of next-gen will either delay their purchase plans to 2021 or now lean toward picking up a PS5. Delayed purchases and upgrades have obviously been a part of their plan, with the cross-generational releases intended to soften the potential blow of a high ticket price for the upcoming machines in the West, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate streaming aiming to let them reach new audiences whenever people want to engage, but they’ve got to try and shift the cloud of negativity currently hovering over them if they hope to stay in touch with Sony through the generation.
Through all of this, and as with any major game delay, we shouldn’t forget the developers themselves. Passion is one of the key attributes that defines many developers, as their love for their creation shines through, but that can be manipulated, it can be crunched. 343 Industries will have been in a maladjusted form of crunch for some time already, the lines between work and home blurred even further thanks to COVID. The response to the gameplay reveal will have hurt, even if it was maybe expected in some quarters, and now those wearying heads have to face an even longer stretch to reach the finish line, whenever that might be.
At the end of the day, while it will hurt in 2020, Halo Infinite’s delay isn’t quite terminal for Xbox Series X and Microsoft’s future plans, but it’s felt like the company has been on the back foot all through the summer. It will take something big (or small, to be more precise) to shift things back in their favour.