It has been a difficult year for the Xbox Series X. While we had all expected Microsoft Gaming to build on the momentum it had generated coming out of 2021 – following the releases of Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, and Microsoft Flight Simulator – delays to Redfall and Starfield scuppered that, and it left the platform with arguably one of its weakest first-party lineups since Phil Spencer took over the job as head of Xbox nine years ago.
As fantastic as Obsidian Games' Pentiment and Grounded are, they were smaller-scale productions aiming to deliver to more niche corners of the game-playing public. In a year where PlayStation Studios delivered God of War Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, and Gran Turismo 7, and where Nintendo was able to launch Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and Splatoon 3, I can't help but be a little disappointed by what Microsoft was able to release in 2022. Do I wish people spoke about Pentiment with the same reverence as they would for Ragnarok or Forbidden West? I sure do, but then a 16th-century murder mystery is always going to be a tougher sell than big cinematic action and benchmark setting visual designs.
If Microsoft Gaming succeeded in any area in 2022, however, it would be with the third-party exclusives it was able to lock down for the platform and Game Pass. Two of the best games of 2022, Immortality and Vampire Survivors, arrived as console exclusives for Xbox, while As Dusk Falls, Sommerville, and High on Life certainly impressed too. Whether this scale of game will keep the Game Pass library looking attractive to prospective subscribers while they wait for the likes of Starfield and Redfall is, however, largely debatable.
It was reported this year that Xbox had failed to reach its Game Pass subscriber target for the second year running, while Phil Spencer confirmed that Game Pass growth on console is "slowing down." While there was always going to be a ceiling on Game Pass subscribers, which Microsoft said sat around 25 million in January, it's perhaps no surprise that the publisher is struggling to see growth. There are 23 first-party studios under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, and while we know what a great many of the teams are working on, it has been quite some time since we've received updates on the likes of Avowed, Fable 4, Indiana Jones, Perfect Dark, and countless others.
Then again, to say that Microsoft Gaming has been a little distracted in 2022 would be something of an understatement. In January, the company announced a $68.7 billion dollar acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Naturally, a move to bring franchises like Call of Duty, Diablo, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and others was not taken all that well by industry regulators and platform rivals. The deal would reshape the landscape of the video game industry, so it's no surprise that it's being investigated by various competition authorities and is facing a serious legal challenge in the US from the FTC.
Given how fervently Sony has challenged the deal too – which has now essentially devolved into the two platform holders mud-slinging over Call of Duty, while everybody from Nintendo to Valve watch curiously from the sidelines – it's almost a guarantee that this will remain one of the biggest stories throughout 2023, and one that has the power to change Xbox.
Regardless of whether the acquisition of Activision Blizzard completes, there is a lot of work for Microsoft Gaming to do in 2023. After a surprisingly quiet year, we need to see Starfield and Redfall release without any major issues, yes, but also for the publisher to leverage more from Xbox Game Studios. This new generation is finally starting to settle into its rhythms, and now we need to see what it's really made of.
Here are the best Xbox Series X games to play right now