There's this old adage in industry circles, that the last 10% of a video game's development is 90% of the work. You have to imagine that this is the trap the two biggest upcoming Xbox Series X exclusives for 2022 tumbled into, following the delay of Redfall and Starfield to the "first half of 2023".
The two video games were set to be the crown jewels of Microsoft's 2022 line-up. Redfall, the open-world co-op shooter from Arkane Studios, was set to launch this summer, drawing Xbox players into a world of bombastic vampire hunting. Starfield, Bethesda Game Studios' new science-fiction RPG, designed to stand alongside Fallout and The Elder Scrolls in its portfolio, was scheduled to release on 11 November, 2022. Just months from their respective releases then, the "difficult decision" has been made to push Redfall and Starfield "to ensure that you receive the best, most polished versions of them."
You have to imagine that Arkane and Bethesda were neck deep in that mythical final stretch of development ahead of these delay decisions being made, with final certification looming large over the productions. It's a shame that we won't be playing these games this year, but if Cyberpunk 2077 taught us anything it's that it's better for a publisher to allocate additional time and resources ahead of launch, rather than ship something that carries the illusion of being unfinished and hope for the best.
The risk of either of these games falling short of expectation is too great for Microsoft. Following the acquisition of the ZeniMax Media group in March 2021, we had long anticipated that this would be the year where Xbox's strategy solidified and players saw a return on the investment. The company paid $7.5 billion to bring studios like Arkane, Bethesda, id Software, and MachineGames under the Xbox Game Studios banner and we're yet to see any substantial results – although you won't find me complaining about the gaps Bethesda's back catalog have filled in the Xbox Game Pass library.
Creative director Todd Howard was steadfast when he told The Washington Post last year that "We're confident in the [Starfield] date… Otherwise, we wouldn't be announcing it." Clearly, something changed; although it's no surprise that Xbox wants to get this right. Starfield is being presented as the foundation for Bethesda's future. It's Bethesda Game Studios' first new IP in 25 years, and the first game using the Creation Engine 2 – its predecessor shoulders, perhaps unfairly, blame for the bugs present in Fallout 4 and Skyrim, and Starfield will want to avoid the specter of such comparisons if it can.
What's next for Xbox?
This pressure for Bethesda and Xbox to deliver is palpable in the buzz that's being generated by Starfield. We've barely seen anything but still it's being discussed with the same reverence that's typically reserved for established platform exclusives like Halo or Gears of War. In fact, it's difficult to see what could possibly replace Starfield and Redfall in the Xbox Series X lineup for 2022 now. Microsoft has announced plenty of games, but Avowed, Fable 4, Perfect Dark, and State of Decay 3 are thought to be early in development. Everwild could be closer to release, although rumors of rebooted development signal that we could be waiting a little longer to play Rare's next co-op adventure.
That leaves Forza Motorsport and Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 as the two most likely candidates chosen to help fill the void; highly anticipated games, yes, but it's unlikely that they will turn heads in quite the same way as Starfield and Redfall. Unless, of course, Microsoft has surprises in store for the Xbox + Bethesda Games Showcase scheduled for June 12, as part of the E3 2022 schedule. That's the conference where we were expecting to see massive gameplay deep dives of both of these delayed games, and pressure is now building for Microsoft to present games that can get Xbox players energized for the autumn.
After what has been a truly seismic start to the year, it's looking increasingly likely that the closing months of 2022 are going to be pretty quiet on the AAA front. GSC Game World is still expected to launch Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl (an Xbox console exclusive) on 8 December, although ongoing complications surrounding the conflict in Ukraine could present further delays. Deep Silver has Saints Row for 23 August, while Warner Bros. has Gotham Knights scheduled for 25 October and has given Hogwarts Legacy a 2022 TBC date, and… well that's about it. Sony is in a similar position, with just two PS5 exclusives planned for the remaining months of 2022 – God of War Ragnarok (which is yet to receive a firm release date) and Square Enix's Forspoken on October 11.
If there's a silver lining to be found in all of this, it's that 2023 is likely to be a banner year for Xbox. Starfield will headline the spring window, followed by the release of two Arkane games – Redfall and Deathloop, whose PS5 window of timed-exclusivity should be coming to an end shortly. Still, for now it's all eyes on E3 2022 to see whether Xbox, Bethesda, and a cavalcade of industry partners can help fill a widening chasm in the Xbox Series X's autumn line up.