The second year of Xbox’s newest generation of gaming, driven by the powerful Xbox Series X and S duo of consoles and a suite of new technologies, is quickly drawing to a close. As 2022 fades into a new year (with a screech, not a whisper), many in the gaming community have remarked that Xbox had a disappointingly quiet year devoid of high-profile, “AAA” game launches.
Some of my favorite gaming experiences of all time were with games released in 2022 — including from Xbox. Still, it’s true that Xbox has compressed a drool-worthy lineup of first and second-party games into the next year… at the expense of a consistent pattern of launches in the last 12 months. Two passion projects from Obsidian Entertainment drove Xbox both on console and Windows PC through 2022, with most of the brand’s anticipation focused on what’s coming next.
A year elevated by Obsidian Entertainment “side” projects
2022 has been an eclectic and frenetic year for video games, with dozens of launches from major players and indie teams alike spread across every platform and device. It’d be nearly impossible to argue that this last year hasn’t been a memorable one for gamers, although it’s easier to claim that Xbox’s first-party studios output didn’t contribute much to that overwhelming industry success.
As Dusk Falls was published by Xbox Game Studios as a second-party title as we entered the second half of 2022, earning high scores for its multiplayer-driven narrative campaign. There were also plenty of partnerships with Xbox throughout the year, with most focusing on the ongoing (and absolutely incredible) Xbox Game Pass gaming subscription that continues to enjoy regular additions across Xbox, PC, and the cloud.
A Plague Tale: Requiem released onto Xbox Game Pass alongside its wider release on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, and is a strong game-of-the-year contender for many players (myself included!). Scorn is a disgusting, unsettling horror game with a truly stunning art design that launched into Xbox Game Pass as an Xbox exclusive.
Indie games have also shined on Xbox and Game Pass in 2022, with games like Nobody Saves the World and Beacon Pines offering genuinely amazing gaming experiences to rival the highest-budget “AAA” releases of the year. Even with all of these immeasurable success and unforgettable releases, though, two of the best Xbox games of the year — and the only first-party Xbox Game Studios games of 2022 — came from small teams at legendary studio Obsidian Entertainment.
What happens when you give Adam Brennecke, who worked on epic titles like Pillars of Eternity and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, command of a 20-strong team of talented developers and two years with a passionate community of survival fans? You get Grounded, an open-world survival game from Obsidian Entertainment that is legitimately one of the best games of 2022. Grounded has a riveting campaign that can be played solo or with friends, a truly unique open world dripping with unique art design and personality, and in-depth survival gameplay supported by dozens of overlapping systems and mechanics.
Grounded has been in the hands of players for over two years, but it left early access in 2022 alongside its massive 1.0 update, which added an all-new area to the world, plenty of accompanying content, and the final pieces to its expansive 40+ hour narrative. Grounded shattered already-high expectations in its complete iteration, and goes toe-to-toe with the most ambitious games of the year, despite the miniature stature of the team behind it. Obsidian Entertainment delivered a stellar title for the year, but the multi-team developer was far from done.
What happens when you give Josh Sawyer, who worked on Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, permission to create the historically accurate, murder-mystery narrative RPG he’s always wanted to make at the helm of a team of 13 developers? You get Pentiment, Obsidian Entertainment’s second game of the year and another contender as one of the greatest titles released in 2022. Pentiment’s stunning visuals are inspired by 16th century illuminated manuscriptions, and its decades-long narrative is one of the most intriguing I’ve experienced all year.
Pentiment may not exist without the accessibility of Xbox Game Pass and Xbox’s newfound willingness to embrace creativity at its studios, and I couldn’t be happier it does. Pentiment’s attention to detail and overall narrative delivery is something truly special, and watching my minute choices cascade and unfurl over years stayed with me for days after playing. Pentiment won’t best the top games of the years in terms of sales, but it should absolutely go down as one of the most creative and mesmerizing titles of 2022.
Obsidian Entertainment has cemented itself as a flagship developer in the Xbox Game Studios family, with both of its 2022 titles accruing near-complete critical and consumer acclaim. Still, Xbox can’t rely entirely on one studio to deliver all of its premium gaming experiences, which still leaves the last year feeling light on content. Obsidian Entertainment deserves kudos for two outstanding releases, especially when it’s known that much larger teams are currently working on games like Avowed and The Outer Worlds 2, but the studio is one bright spot in a year of darkness.
Stacking the next 12 months with major Xbox games
The Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase that aired earlier this year was dedicated to the “next 12 months of Xbox,” which many of the games expected to arrive at some point in 2023. While Xbox’s 2022 was crushed by the delays of highly anticipated Bethesda and Arkane titles Starfield and Redfall (and subsequently saved by the release of Obsidian’s Grounded and Pentiment), 2023 was poised early on as the first year in ages where Xbox will enjoy a full and varied first-party release cycle — the end goal that has been promised since Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer began calling the shots.
There are currently four high-profile “AAA” games inbound from Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda Softworks in the 2023 release period, with the possibility of more as-of-yet unconfirmed games joining the lineup. All four of these games are joined by sweltering waves of hype from the gaming community, and represent the first consistent results of years of investment and continued work from the Xbox team to improve its content output. The games are also spread across a range of genres, appealing to a wide array of players without falling into any one type of game (a criticism sometimes levied against Sony and its preference for third-person action titles).
Minecraft Legends has steadily managed to work its way to the top of my most anticipated games, and is the third full-fledged Minecraft game from storied developer Mojang Studios (with the aid of Blackbird Interactive). Minecraft Legends is a unique action-strategy game that combines elements of open-world action-adventure games with real-time strategy titles. Players must unite the people and animals of the Overworld against the invading Piglin threat, pulling from the world’s resources and their own ingenuity to come out on top. It looks ridiculous and chaotic, like sheer unadulterated strategy fun, with it being likened to a real-time strategy game, but you’re the cursor.
Turn 10 Studios is breaking a six-year hiatus for the Forza Motorsport franchise with the release of Forza Motorsport (2023). This is a simulation racer to its core. Turn 10 Studios has upped the ante and its already-legendary visual fidelity, while also investing in improving its simulation elements and gameplay mechanics. The simulation racing community is famously difficult to please, but Forza Motorsport (2023) may be able to accomplish the impossible. Turn 10 Studios is working with the community to ensure its next flagship racer is its best yet, although there’s still a lot to see before the game arrives on Xbox and PC.
Next up on the roster is Redfall, a first-person co-op shooter from the same team that made Prey (2017). Redfall pits a team of up to four players against legions of twisted vampires and their followers. It’s the first of its kind from Arkane Studios, and has ignited interest from players with its gorgeous art design, intriguing gameplay loop, and open-world environments. Redfall, like Minecraft Legends, is another game that flew under the radar for many before rocketing to the heights of the most anticipated games of the next year.
Finally, we have the game that has possibly accrued more hype than any other game of 2023: Starfield. The first new IP from the makers of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout in decades, Starfield is an expansive open-world sci-fi RPG that takes place across hundreds of planets. Starfield is the epitome of “bigger is better,” with Bethesda aspiring to recreate an entire galaxy within a game for players to explore to their heart’s content, complete with an epic campaign packed with drama, action, and meaningful choices.
These four games have exactly two things in common: they hail from first-party Xbox studios, and they’re all slated to arrive in the first half of 2022. Four hyped first-party launches in six months is an impressive milestone for Xbox, if each game releases on time. Xbox fans will have no shortage of fresh new games to play, especially when considered alongside the inevitable stream of new Game Pass additions and third-party releases. All four of the known 2023 Xbox releases are also squeezed into the first six months of the year, though, hinting at more to come in the receding half of the year.
Upcoming Xbox games also include an assortment of Xbox Game Studios titles bereft of a release date or even vague window, such as Avowed, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Fable, Perfect Dark, and Contraband. Could we see any of these games, or other still-unannounced titles, land in the latter months of 2023? Nothing is certain at the moment, 2023 could be shaping up to be one of the most exciting years for Xbox gamers in a long time.
Keeping an eye on the Xbox horizon
With over 50 completed games under my belt in 2022, and even an entire month dedicated to horror titles, it’s clear that this year has been an incredible one for gaming. I’ve played so many fantastic games, with many making claims for some of my favorite games of all time. Xbox’s first-party releases have been a smaller part of that conversation that many Xbox players would like, however, a problem that’s looking to be rectified once and for all in the new year.
Four games from Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda are landing in 2023, and each one is on the shortlist for the year’s most anticipated titles. More games could be coming from the land of Xbox in the months following those releases, stacking the years with even more first-party Xbox goodness. Xbox Game Pass subscribers stand to benefit from these developments the most, with every first-party Xbox game heading to the service from release and into eternity.
Plenty of exciting projects from third and second-party developers, as well as inevitable new games from Sony and Nintendo, further add to the fervor surrounding gaming in 2023. For me, though, one platform in particular has piqued my interest. Finally, Xbox is positioned to deliver an entire year’s worth of compelling games, and I can’t wait to see that ambition (hopefully) come to fruition. If you’re not already invested in the Xbox ecosystem, consider picking up an Xbox Series S for the holidays, and keep your eyes on Xbox’s horizon.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate already includes hundreds upon hundreds of incredible games across Xbox, PC, and the cloud, and all the most-anticipated Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda titles of the next year are heading to the service on day one.