For all intents and purposes, Microsoft has been on fire with how they’ve approached their next generation plans. The company somehow managed to keep the Xbox Series X reveal a surprise during December’s The Game Awards, confirming the name and look of the console. Earlier in 2020, they were the first to show off their console’s specs, letting numerous places like Digital Foundry get their hands on it as well.
I believe that much of this hype was also improved by Sony’s seemingly unwillingness to really talk about the PS5 as of yet. So far, we’ve seen the controller reveal and the original GDC talk, which I think missed the mark for most casual or mass market fans. Sure, the hardcore may have enjoyed parts of it, but ultimately, that was a presentation geared specifically towards developers and industry professionals and not for a rabid fanbase desperate for accessible next gen news.
Regardless, the next major step for Microsoft was games and the company was set to check that box off last week during a new event. The hype continued to grow leading up to the event where gameplay was promised. Naturally, fans were excited to finally see what the next gen would look like. As we now know, things went a little bit sideways, much to the surprise of Microsoft.
In my opinion, this was another situation were expectations, left unchecked, became a very dangerous thing. The presentation was basically a big showcase for trailers, many of which promoted visuals that were rendered in-engine. Sure, there were some lookers, but the presentation left many fans wanting more. In fact, the only game that truly looked next gen to me on a technical level was probably the first game they showed off, Bright Memory: Infinite.
The Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay trailer was basically 1 minute in length, quickly splicing very short clips together. Fans crushed the trailer with dislikes, with many people voicing their unhappiness with what they expected and what they were given. It wasn’t true gameplay, just a bunch of clips from the game turned into a trailer. You could also argue that it looked visually very similar to Origins and Odyssey as well. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it.
Microsoft’s own Aaron Greenberg responded to a fan on Twitter and admitted that the company set the wrong expectations. His response was cordial, understanding, and appreciative for all the feedback. Needless to say, Microsoft has clearly learned from this, which should make for some very interesting follow up reveal events later this year.
In the end, I feel like people were hoping for an E3 style experience with lengthier gameplay demos. While I’m sure Microsoft has something like that planned, especially with its first party event set for July, I can’t help but to believe that perhaps the company needed to better set expectations or at the very least, tone back the phrasing around gameplay.
One other thing that I had to remind myself is that this is the start of a new generation of consoles and that likely means it’ll take time for developers to really harness the power of these new machines. It’s the same pattern every time really. Think about the start of the Xbox One and PS4 and the games that were released, then consider where we’re at now. In many cases, it’s night and day. As studios start to better understand the hardware and architecture, games will be even better down the road.
Now, that’s not to say we won’t be getting some early gems, but I think expectations may need to be lowered a little bit, especially in the first year or so. It’ll be a fun ride, but as we saw last week, not every game is going to push the boundaries of what we think of as next generation. And that’s okay. I’m still excited to see what the future holds.