We are allegedly, finally about to get our questions answered about the PS5 and Xbox Series X this month, namely when they come out and how much they cost. But for one console in particular, there’s a question that it needs to answer besides those two.
Why exactly should people buy an Xbox Series X, or Series S, if that does indeed debut alongside it?
Microsoft’s Xbox philosophy has evolved to the point where the actual Xbox itself seems almost irrelevant. This is not “console war shade,” it’s just a fact about how Microsoft is positioning themselves in the market, and there are a number of past, present and future factors that all add up to “why should anyone spend $500-600 for a new Xbox this fall?” that I don’t think is easy to answer.
PC Cross-Release: This is a carryover from last gen, but considering Microsoft is also in the PC OS business, they’ve decided to make any Xbox exclusive game…not an Xbox exclusive going forward. All Xbox exclusives also release simultaneously on PC, meaning that if you have a computer capable of running them, you don’t need an Xbox at all (and hell, you can use an Xbox controller on your PC if you really want to replicate the experience). Sony, meanwhile, has started adding old exclusives to PC, a first, and yet this does not seem to be the plan for newer titles, which will have to be played on PS5 and nothing but PS5 for a long while, no doubt.
Cross-Gen Support: Similarly, Microsoft has pledged that at least for a while, probably a few years, its exclusives will also work on the current generation of consoles, the Xbox One. So when Halo Infinite finally does arrive, you might experience it at its “best” on Xbox Series X, but you don’t need that console to be able to play it if you already have an Xbox One. Again, likely dissimilar to Sony which will no doubt demand a PS5 for Horizon Forbidden West or its other upcoming next-gen games.
Game Pass Ultimate/xCloud: This is going to be a new experiment, but soon enough, you could technically be able to subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate paired with xCloud and not need an Xbox or gaming PC to be able to play Xbox games, as due to game streaming, they’ll be able to run on a variety of devices from potentially phones to tablets to lower spec laptops and PCs to Smart TVs (just nothing on iOS). Again, this gets you around the need to buy any sort of box whatsoever if streaming works well enough.
Halo Infinite Delay: Even if Infinite was on PC and last gen, this was the flagship launch game of the Series X this fall, which is now left with just a few smaller exclusives after a delay until 2021 (likely late 2021, from the looks of it). But players were no doubt excited to pick up an Xbox Series X and run the game there, so that at least was a selling point for the console for some. But now since it’s anywhere from 3-12 months away, that’s lost to them.
Future Exclusives: Even if an Xbox Series X is where you want to play future Xbox exclusives instead of PC or xCloud, the biggest upcoming games Microsoft has announced, Fable, Avowed and Forza do not seem like they will be ready in 2021, and no dates have been promised for them at all. So while Series X may be the place to play those in the future, it’s the far future, for now. Instead, players will have to settle for “upgraded” old exclusives like Gears 5 running at 60 fps.
Power Edge Over PS5: From the specs, it’s clear that Microsoft’s Series X is fundamentally more powerful than Sony’s PS5. And yet I have yet to see any comparisons that show that off, so we have no idea if that difference is even going to be noticeable. All Xbox Series X demos we see are usually running on a PC with “similar specs” to a Series X, as opposed to PS5 footage we get regularly. Sony has also shown off games like Ratchet and Clank which clearly demonstrate something very “next gen” like instant level warping, and maybe Series X can do that too with its SSD, but we have not seen it outside of maybe The Medium with its “dual world” play. In short, it may have a technical power edge, but if that translates into anything it can do that the PS5 cannot, across shared third party games especially, we have not seen that yet.
Don’t get me wrong, Sony isn’t in the strongest position here either. Their PS5 launch seems pretty minimalistic with only Godfall as a console exclusive (shared with PC) and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which has shown off so little footage that I’m not ruling out that it could be delayed. But PS5 has a full head of steam coming in off PS4’s dominant generation, and even if Microsoft’s policies like cross PC releases or last gen support are meant to be “consumer friendly” they also serve as clear reasons not to shell out for a new Xbox, while a PS5 seems like it will be mandatory to experience a host of future games.
It seems too late for Microsoft to delay the Xbox Series X until it has Halo or something else to launch with, as that would only give up even more ground to Sony, but I am genuinely having a hard time understanding what the actual selling point is of the console this fall when the box seems so unnecessary for so many reasons, and even its claimed power edge does not seem to be able to be shown off in any meaningful capacity. We’ll see how their marketing plays out, but for now, it’s a strange situation.