Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer modes will be free-to-play; Jack Sparrow is coming to Sea of Thieves; the next Forza Horizon is going to Mexico; and the mysterious Redfall turned out to be a new vampire-fighting co-op game from Arkane Studios.
Those are just some of the unveilings from a joint 90-minute presentation Sunday hosted by Microsoft and Bethesda as part of this year’s all-virtual Electronic Entertainment Expo, showing off a full 30 games that are coming to the Xbox platform in the next few years. 27 of the 30 will be released simultaneously as both standalone purchases and for the Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s Netflix-esque subscription service.
Microsoft paid $7.5 billion earlier this year to acquire ZeniMax Media, the Maryland-based holding company for video game publisher Bethesda Softworks.
This was widely perceived as a make-or-break press conference for Microsoft, which has struggled with a lack of exclusives for the Xbox since the debut of the Series X last year. While many of the biggest games for the Xbox (eco)system are still at least two years out, today’s Showcase does provide a lot for Xbox fans to look forward to.
“Team Xbox is on a mission to bring the joined community of gaming to everyone on the planet,” Spencer said. “As we look ahead to next year, I’m inspired by the creativity of Bethesda and Xbox Game Studios.”
Bethesda opened the show with a first look at its hotly anticipated RPG Starfield, the first original IP that Bethesda has developed in-house in 25 years. It received a firm release date of Nov. 11, 2022, and is said to be a game about “answering humanity’s greatest mystery” as you set out to explore the stars.
This was also an anniversary celebration of sorts, marking the 20th birthday for both the original Xbox and the Halo franchise, but that was treated as more of a fun data point than an actual focus of the show. (Like other big anniversaries that fell on this year, such as The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, one wonders if there might have been more of a fuss made about Halo‘s 20th if last year’s pandemic lockdowns hadn’t screwed up everyone’s development schedules.)
The anniversary does line up neatly with Halo Infinite‘s general structure, however. It’s now confirmed for release on an unspecified date this winter, in “Holiday 2021,” and still looks like it’s got a back-to-basics focus in its story campaign.
The broader cast of Spartans and new enemy aliens from Halo 4 and 5 are not in evidence; instead, you’re back as the Master Chief, fighting Covenant separatists across the surface of a newly-discovered Halo ring. The setting is described by new creative director Joseph Staten as the biggest environment that Redmond, Wash.-based 343 Industries has ever built.
A trailer at the Games Showcase did introduce a new element to Infinite‘s campaign mode. The Master Chief will once again be joined by the AI Cortana, voiced by Halo veteran Jen Taylor, but this time, it’s not the original. This is a new, similar AI that was supposed to self-delete after the capture of the original Cortana, who’d gone “rampant” (insane) over the course of the last few games. Someone managed to prevent not-Cortana from destroying herself, however, which means there’s more going on here than a simple humans-vs.-Covenant fight.
In a peculiar move, the multiplayer mode for Infinite is planned to be free-to-play on its supported platforms. It comes complete with many of the traditional Halo features, in addition to the new grappling hook and a big harpoon launcher called the “Skewer.” 343 also showed off a broad variety of new customizations for players’ Spartan armor, including a samurai-styled helmet.
Infinite is planned to be available on the Xbox Game Pass on day one, as are many of the other Xbox-published titles that were announced at the Games Showcase. As we learned the other day from Microsoft’s pre-E3 presentation, the Xbox division found a lot of success with the Game Pass as what VP Sarah Bond called a “discovery engine,” and it’s leaning into that with its upcoming library.
While many of the games shown were little more than evocative trailers — The Outer Worlds 2‘s trailer even said, point-blank, that all its developers have finished is its logo — most are already confirmed for day-one debuts on Game Pass, with one big new release scheduled every month until the end of the year.
This includes the quirky Japanese RPG Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which came to Game Pass today, with Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Alliance still planned to debut June 22. Future months’ Game Pass releases include The Ascent and a console-specialized port of Microsoft Flight Simulator in July, with the hotly anticipated Psychonauts 2 and the award-winning indie dungeon crawler Hades in August.
WB Games and Turtle Rock Studios’ spiritual follow-up to Valve’s Left 4 Dead, the cooperative zombie shooter Back 4 Blood, was also confirmed as a day-one launch on Game Pass. It’s still scheduled for release in October.
Another big reveal came courtesy of Arkane Studios, the Bethesda-owned developer that previously created Dishonored and the 2017 sci-fi/horror game Prey. The name Redfall had leaked well ahead of the Showcase, and many fans had speculated that it was a working title for the next Elder Scrolls game; it has, after, all, been a full 10 years since Skyrim.
Instead, RedFall — shown as a cinematic trailer, with no gameplay revealed — is an open-world shooter, with a Stranger Things-esque retro vibe, that can be played solo or cooperatively.
You and (presumably) up to three friends take the role of a squad of well-armed investigators who battle against the vampire cult that’s taken over the town of Redfall, Mass. In addition to standard anti-vampire tools like stakes and genre-typical firearms, each character has abilities like a cloaking device, a robot buddy, and telekinesis.
RedFall, scheduled for the summer of 2022, is an Xbox console exclusive that will appear on the Game Pass on day one.
Between Halo Infinite and RedFall, it does raise the question of whether Microsoft or its development partners have learned from the issues with Outriders earlier this year, where the big influx of players on day one via Game Pass melted the game’s servers for most of its launch weekend. While the interest in the game remained high, to the point where Microsoft mentioned its popularity as a point in the Game Pass’ favor earlier this week, Outriders still strikes me as more of a cautionary tale than anything else.
Fans of Microsoft’s Sea of Thieves can also look forward to a free update on June 22, A Pirate’s Life, which features Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s character from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Sparrow has ended up in the Sea of Thieves somehow, as has his adversary Davy Jones, and will join players on an adventure to “save the pirate life.”
The single biggest chunk of time at the Showcase was devoted to the debut of Forza Horizon 5, the newest entry in Microsoft’s first-party racing game. Horizon is the branch of the Forza franchise that’s more dedicated to open-world activities than straight-up racing, and this time, it’s set in Mexico.
This Festival never ends. Welcome to Mexico. Welcome to Forza Horizon 5. pic.twitter.com/Ku0GyJRoLb
— Forza Horizon (@ForzaHorizon) June 13, 2021
Mike Brown, the creative director for the game, describes Forza‘s Mexico as “the largest, most fun, and most beautiful open world we’ve ever built.” New features include a minigame, Pinata Pop, where players collaborate to run over confetti-spraying balloons strewn throughout a map, and a customization mode that lets you build your own Forza minigame, such as a giant bowling alley.
Some of the other highlights from the Games Showcase are as follows. Unless otherwise specified, these games are all coming to the Game Pass service on release.
- A big Among Us update is coming on Tuesday, which will add new player colors, a small graphics update, and 15-player lobbies. This is the first stop along Innersloth’s current developer roadmap, which includes a fifth map, achievements, account linking between platforms, and apparently the developers finally being able to sleep at some point.
- Obsidian made a very self-aware trailer to indicate that The Outer Worlds 2 exists, but confirmed exactly nothing else.
- Bethesda has released 10 more of its games on the Game Pass as of Sunday morning. PC players get Arx Fatalis, Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics, while all platforms receive Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, The Evil Within 2, the 2016 reboot of Doom, Rage, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and Fallout 3.
- Obsidian’s survival game Grounded, where a bunch of kids have been shrunken to microscopic size and must find ways to survive in their own backyard, is getting a big update on June 30 to celebrate its 1-year anniversary. The “Shroom & Doom” update adds the ability to sit down, pets, mushroom farming, and the debut of a truly enormous spider that “nobody asked for.”
- STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl is coming to Xbox. It’s a new entry in the long-dormant action series, set in an alternate history where a second explosion at the Chernobyl plant disrupted reality in the area around it. You play as Skif, one of the scavengers who’s come to the mutated city of Pripyat to seek his fortune. It’s scheduled for April 28, 2022, as an Xbox console exclusive.
- Avalanche Studios, creators of the Just Cause series, have a new game called Contraband. It’s an open-world heist caper set in a fictional version of the 1970s.
- DICE’s Battlefield 2042, a near-future competitive shooter for up to 128 players, is coming to Xbox on Oct. 22.
- The long-anticipated time-looping murder mystery Twelve Minutes, starring James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe, was briefly shown at E3 a couple of years ago before vanishing without a trace. It abruptly resurfaced at the Games Showcase with a release date of Aug. 19.
- Fallout 76 is, according to Bethesda’s Pete Hines, one of the most popular games on the Game Pass. It’s got a new expansion, Steel Reign, coming on July 7, where players must decide what side to come down on when a schism splits the Brotherhood of Steel. There’s also a new expedition, into the irradiated ruins of Pittsburgh, planned for 2022.
- This Tuesday, Bethesda is also releasing a console-optimized port of The Elder Scrolls Online for Xbox. Hines announced at the Showcase that Online has hit 18 million players, with a new story chapter, Deadlands, still scheduled for release this fall.
- A bunch of animal plushies fight each other to the adorable death in Party Animals, a physics-based multiplayer game that’s coming to the Xbox platform in 2022.
- Blizzard’s recent re-release of Diablo II, Resurrected, will get an Xbox Series X|S optimized port on Sept. 23, featuring 8-player co-op mode.
- The 2019 indie sleeper hit, A Plague Tale: Innocence, is getting a sequel in 2022. Requiem, which features the return of Amicia de Rune and her brother Hugo, is a survival horror/stealth game set in 14th-century France.
- Monomi Park has created a sequel to the adorable farming game Slime Rancher, a sort of first-person shooter where you capture, corral, and collect alien blobs from the surface of a distant world. Slime Rancher 2 is scheduled for release next year.
- Microsoft’s latest strategy game, Age of Empires IV, built by World’s Edge in Redmond, Wash., will release on Oct. 28.
- The Ascent, a co-op cyberpunk action-RPG, is scheduled for release for Xbox on July 29. In a future where there’s only one mega-corporation left standing, your characters must figure out how to survive in the wake of its collapse. (It’s always sort of funny when Microsoft does anything cyberpunk.)
- The creators of the long-dormant Japanese RPG franchise Suikoden have reunited for a new series, Eiyuden Chronicles, which is a pixel-art throwback to PlayStation-era gaming. The first two games in the series, Hundred Heroes and Rising, are planned for release in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
- Microsoft Flight Simulator will release for the Xbox Series X|S on July 27. There’s also a new update planned to coincide with the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Maverick, which will add new fighter jets to the Flight Simulator experience.
- There hasn’t been a big-ticket snowboarding game in a while. Foam Punch plans to address this with Shredders, a new game that’s “for riders, by riders,” in December 2021.
- Atomic Heart is an action-RPG by a Russian studio, Mundfish, where you play as an unstable KGB agent in a super-advanced alternate 1955 Soviet Union. Its trailer at the Showcase makes it look like you’ll spend a lot of its run time getting brutalized by murder mannequins, but the game’s emphasis is on stealth, evasion, and improvised weaponry. It has no official release date as of yet.
- Somerville is a new surreal horror game from Jumpship, a studio created by the co-founder of Playdead, which made the equally surreal Limbo and Inside. You play as the members of a small family—a father, mother, son, and dog—who are trying to survive and reunite against the backdrop of Earth being invaded by aliens. Given Somerville‘s pedigree, expect it to be one of the weirdest things you’ve ever seen.
Notable no-shows at this year’s Games Showcase included Obsidian’s first-person fantasy game Avowed, the next entry in the Fable series, a new Forza Motorsport, the revival of Perfect Dark, and the long-awaited sixth Elder Scrolls game. All of them were name-dropped by Phil Spencer in his closing comments, but none were otherwise mentioned.