Image: Alex Walker/Kotaku
Xbox held a preview event for the Xbox One X, showing off their first and third party games. But while it was nice to see more of the console up close, the most telling thing was that the most popular game wasn’t running on an Xbox at all.
Held at the ballroom in Sydney’s Luna Park, Xbox decked out the entire room with a bunch of TVs, a suite of Xbox One X debug consoles, and a couple of PCs.
It was basically Xbox’s showcase library for the holidays: Cuphead, Forza Motorsport 7, Super Lucky’s Tale, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Age of Empires 1: Definitive Edition, Disneyland Adventures, Gears of War 4, Path of Exile, Quantum Break and, unsurprisingly, Battlegrounds.
Battlegrounds only had two stations, didn’t have full controller support, and you were playing on a PC against people with mouse and keyboard. Who could choose what gun they wanted to drop when picking something up. Who could move around while looking in another direction far more comfortably. Who had much finer control of PUBG‘s recoil.
But that didn’t stop it from being the most popular game at the venue.
The Minecraft Xbox One S console was on show too; it’s very, very pretty. Image: Alex Walker/Kotaku
It’s a microcosm of the biggest hurdle the Xbox One X has to face. The console itself, the hardware inside, is fine. More than fine, really. It’s comfortably ahead of the PS4 Pro, and it’ll be priced as such. But when Microsoft proclaims they have the most powerful console on the planet, they’re right.
But that’s only part of the puzzle.
The hurdle that the Xbox has to get over, one it’s been troubled by since the launch of the Xbox One, is the games. There’s always been that element of games looking slightly finer on the stock PS4, with a more detailed effect here, improved texture there. The difference wasn’t night and day, even though the occasional game (like Dark Souls 3) would have issues.
The problem was the Xbox One didn’t have enough exclusives that people wanted to play – or at least enough console exclusives that people wanted to play on the couch. Rise of the Tomb Raider didn’t turn out to be Horizon Zero Dawn. Sunset Overdrive was neat, but too MTV for its own good. And while Forza Horizon 3 is fantastic, the best casual racer of the last few years, that’s also a game that’s not really for everyone. Gears 4 has a similar problem.
It’s not accessible in the way that, say, Rocket League was. Which came to Xbox eventually, but not before PS+ users got it for free. And while Lara’s adventures are always well worth their time, they’re also available on a console now that also has Nathan Drake. And The Last of Us. And a Crash Bandicoot remaster.
The things people really want either aren’t on Xbox, weren’t on them initially, or are handicapped in some fashion (like Call of Duty and Destiny).
Which is why PUBG on the Xbox is so important.
Gizmodo’s Campbell Simpson, playing some Forza 7. Image: Alex Walker/Kotaku
It wasn’t though the games on show weren’t exciting, and they looked stunning to boot. Microsoft led with Forza 7 when it first revealed the technical power of the Xbox One X, and it’s as buttery smooth in person as all the videos have shown. It won’t be as accessible as Forza Horizon, but if racing is your thing then you’ll probably be satisfied.
Other games there were ones I was able to check out at Gamescom, but not record footage of. That included Super Lucky’s Tale and Age of Empires 1: Definitive Edition, both builds were the same that I played in Germany. The sound buggered up on AOE 1, but if you want to see how the game holds up visually you can get an idea of that below.
Not every game on the show floor had direct capture. Cuphead, Path of Exile and AC: Origins didn’t, and neither did PUBG even though it was running from a PC.
And even though PUBG only had two demo stations, it was the star of the show. You could only scroll through your inventory with the D-Pad, and there was a slight delay with every button press. Running around was fine, and driving vehicles was a little easier.
The actual process of aiming and killing people was a non-starter. The sensitivity was completely buggered with the longer scopes, and the game will need plenty of adjustments (fixed recoil, better inventory management) before it handles comfortably on consoles.
Of course, Microsoft can say that Xbox One X will be the best place to buy multi-platform games. And there’s no doubt that it will – the hardware is something else.
But then we get into the other problem.
As it stands, the Xbox One X will cost $649 at launch. In a year or two, we’ll start seeing bundles around $500 or $550. Buy a game or two at Christmas and you’re pushing $700 again, not to mention if you throw another controller into the mix.
For someone who hasn’t jumped on this console generation at all, that’s not a terrible proposition. But for someone who’s already invested into an Xbox One S, PS4 or a PS4 Pro, it’s a hell of a lot of money. Cheaper than building a PC that could reliably play games at 4K/30fps for the next few years, but not cheap.
That’s why the Xbox One S has been the best selling console in Australia for most of the year: price. That hasn’t solved problems with the Xbox not having enough compelling exclusives, although deals like PUBG and Path of Exile show that the company is getting there.
It just won’t be this year.