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With Bethesda and Game Pass behind it, Microsoft has made the Xbox Series X impossibly attractive

Starfield
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

When Microsoft claimed that it would 'power our dreams with the next-generation of Xbox' in the run-up to the Xbox Series X, I don't know that any of us could have anticipated that it would look quite like this. In the 90-minute Xbox E3 2021 showcase, packed with over 30 game reveals and announcements, Microsoft put on what was undoubtedly its best E3 briefing in years and acted as savior of what has been a pretty underwhelming E3 2021 showing from the ESA. 

There was a lot riding on this from Microsoft. It's the first major presentation since the $7 billion acquisition of Zenimax last year, which included Arkane Studios and Bethesda Game Studios, amongst numerous other world class outfits. No matter what happened at E3 2021, Microsoft had to demonstrate that the acquisition spree it has been on since 2018 was not only worth the investment, but enough to shake the long-standing impression that Xbox has no exclusives. You'd be hard pressed to make that argument now, as Xbox outlined a powerful and dreamlike lineup of exclusives. 

Bethesda takes center stage

Redfall

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

One question that needed to be answered in this showcase was how easily the Zenimax group would be integrated into the broader Xbox Game Studios family. The answer? Quite easily, apparently. The showcase opened up with Todd Howard, Bethesda Game Studios' director and executive producer, to reveal the first information and visuals for Starfield. It's being teased as Skyrim in space, and it's exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem – putting an end, once and for all, to the idea that Microsoft would be willing to spread the Bethesda love to PS5 owners in the future. 

If that weren't enough, the showcase also closed with yet another brand new IP. This one is from Arkane Austin, an open-world co-op shooter from the team behind Prey and Dishonored. Redfall is pitched as a game where you and three friends take on legions of vampires and yes, like Starfield, it's Xbox exclusive and coming to Game Pass on day one. It's these kinds of announcements that solidify what Microsoft has been selling throughout the Xbox Series X campaign – that it had assembled the world's most powerful console, and it would have the world's most diverse and interesting software lineup to back it up.

The purchase of Zenimax could well prove to be one of the shrewdest business decisions that Microsoft has ever made. Even with a first look at Halo Infinite multiplayer and the surprise reveal of Forza Horizon 5, it's undoubtedly going to be the new exclusive games from the former Zenimax group that garner the most attention. What's a little dizzying is that Microsoft held so much back, too, because it could have gone even further. 

Id Software revealed that Doom Eternal is being boosted to 120 frames-per second on Xbox Series X, but we have no idea what the legendary studio is doing next. MachineGames got a passing mention, but there wasn't a tease of its Indiana Jones game or whether a new Wolfenstein is in development. Roundhouse, Alpha Dog, and Tango Gameworks were similarly silent. But it doesn't matter all that much, because the full-throated endorsement of Starfield and Redfall as Xbox exclusives sends a powerful message, one that Sony will struggle to respond to in the immediate aftermath. 

More to show

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Truth be told, given the breathless reveal of one Xbox exclusive after the other, it really is surprising to think that more could have been shown – which is to say, that there's still plenty more for Xbox to show in the future. 

Playground Games showed a huge selection of Forza Horizon 5 gameplay, and announced that it's coming in November 2021, a surprise given that it's almost been four years since the last Forza Motorsport game from Turn 10 – a spiritual reboot of sorts is in the works, but we've seen very little of it. Playground also revealed last year that it is working on its reboot of the Fable franchise, but that's something to be shown next time around. Same goes for Rare, who used its stage time to reveal a Pirates of the Caribbean crossover with Sea of Thieves, rather than give us the Everwild info we so desperately crave.

Similarly, we saw nothing new from InXile Entertainment or Compulsion Games, the We Happy Few developer has been radio silent since it was acquired in 2018. Ninja Theory wasn't brought out to talk Hellblade 2 and Project MARA,  The Initiative wasn't ready to talk more on its Perfect Dark reboot, while Obsidian sidestepped its new fantasy-RPG Avowed to instead announce The Outer Worlds 2 and detail new content for Grounded.

I say all of this only to point out that Microsoft put on one hell of a show without revealing its entire hand. That's a little ridiculous to consider, given how publicly the company has struggled with exclusives and first-party workflow throughout the eternity of the last generation. The future of Xbox looks bright, even with the 2021 lineup looking a little dry; Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 will carry Xbox through its 20th anniversary celebrations and into what the Xbox E3 2021 showcase promises will be one hell of a 2022.  


Josh West
UK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the UK Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. He has over 10 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Games, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.