Anyone who has been keeping up with the happenings of the gaming industry for any substantial time will tell you that it's best to keep your expectations low. Even with this maxim in mind, the last year seemed especially rough for Xbox fans. A lack of major first-party game releases, compounded by Redfall's disastrous launch, is more than enough to raise questions about Microsoft's ability to compete against PlayStation's excellent catalogue of first party games. Making matters worse, a number of high-profile third-party Xbox Game Pass partnerships ended up with their own problems. Some of the more notable examples include Warhammer 40,000: Darktide's missing console port, Atomic Heart's average-at-best reception, and Scorn's decidedly disappointing gameplay.
Needless to say, the Xbox player base needed some good news. Fortunately, the Xbox Games Showcase provided exactly that. Approximately two dozen new games made their debut at the Showcase, most of which had release dates that targeted the end of 2023 and "early" 2024. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these games are going to be on Xbox Game Pass on launch day as well. Barring any unexpected turn of events, one can expect to see Payday 3, Forza Motorsport, Persona 5 Tactica, Starfield, Jusant, The Lamplighters League, Lies of P, and Cities: Skylines 2 on Xbox Game Pass by the end of this year. It's a very diverse lineup, bolstered by the promise of more major first-party game releases in the (presumably) near future with the gameplay debut of Avowed and Clockwork Revolution.
Of course, the game that's going to be on everyone's mind is Starfield. In fact, the Starfield presentation was almost as long as the rest of the Xbox Showcase, with about 45 minutes of footage that showed off character and ship customization, combat and noncombat mechanics, exploration, and more, with some added commentary from several Bethesda developers. If the ample amounts of gameplay footage is to be believed, Starfield is not just going to be Bethesda's most ambitious game to date, it's going to be the game that defines what this generation of consoles (and reasonably priced PC hardware) can achieve.
Taken at face value, Starfield is going to be a game that has ship and weapon customization, ship-to-ship combat and boarding mechanics, a robust amount of tried-and-true roleplaying mechanics, zero-G environments and basic zero-G weapon physics, 1000 planets with various biomes and an untold number of creatures and day-night cycles, and who knows how many NPCs that you can talk to and interact with in classic Bethesda style. Starfield will essentially be the culmination of decades of humanity's dreams and fantasies about space exploration. Any number of games have these individual features, but this is possibly the first time in gaming history that all of these gameplay mechanics are unified in a single package that, perhaps most importantly, casual audiences can play.
That being said, Starfield is a Bethesda game, and Bethesda games are notoriously temperamental. One can only imagine the potential issues that might pop up in a game that dwarfs Skyrim, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76 in size and complexity. This is no exaggeration by the way, as Starfield requires at least 125 GB of space on an SSD to run on a PC. Skyrim, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76 combined only require 122 GB of space on a PC, without mandating the use of an SSD. With all these moving parts, it's probably not a coincidence that "It just works" is one of the more memorable quotes attributed to the director of Bethesda Game Studios, Todd Howard.
Ultimately, whether or not Starfield will meet expectations is irrelevant. The greater problem is that it should've never reached the point where Xbox's reputation relied upon the success of a single game to begin with. Even if we completely ignore Redfall's failure to impress, that still leaves us with Pentiment, Hi-Fi Rush, and Grounded as the only exclusive first-party Xbox games to have released since June 2022. They're very good games, but when you consider the games that launched in that same time period on other platforms and factor in the amount of money and talented workers that Xbox apparently has access to, people are bound to be disappointed.
On the bright side, there were quite a few third-party developers who showed up at the Xbox Games Showcase, playing into Xbox Game Pass' ability to provide overwhelming quantity and variety at an affordable price. It's especially encouraging to see Atlus, Ryu Ga Gotoku, and Thunder Lotus continue their apparent Game Pass partnerships. This gives Xbox some breathing room in 2024 depending on the state of Starfield's launch, doubly so if games like Avowed and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth can keep players satisfied until Fable and Clockwork Revolution get their own release dates.