Microsoft's Xbox Series X has just suffered its first major blow in the upcoming next-gen console war against Sony's PlayStation 5: Halo Infinite, which was originally supposed to be the flagship launch title, has been delayed to 2021. Is this where the tide turns for Xbox?
"We have made the difficult decision to shift our release to 2021 to ensure the team has adequate time to deliver a Halo game experience that meets our vision," Studio Head Chris Lee wrote in the message, citing "multiple factors" that include "ongoing COVID-related impacts."
The post explains that it's "not sustainable for the well-being of [the] team or the overall success of the game to ship it this holiday." The news comes barely more than two weeks after a major Halo Infinite gameplay reveal that aired during a July 23 games showcase. Following a mostly negative fan reaction to the graphics showcased during the presentation, an ugly Brute the community named Craig became a meme, and the development team went on to respond directly to the criticism at the end of July in a blog post.
"Negative feedback in this area [of graphics] includes comments around characters and objects appearing flat, simplistic and plastic-like, lighting feeling dull and flat, and object pop-in," wrote Community Manager John Junyszek. "We’ve read your comments, we’ve seen the homemade examples of retouched content, and yes we’ve heard the Digital Foundry assessments. In many ways we are in agreement here – we do have work to do to address some of these areas and raise the level of fidelity and overall presentation for the final game."
All that negative feedback likely impacted ongoing development plans at 343. We may never know for certain, but for Halo Infinite to be missing on the day Xbox Series X launches could be a massive blow to Microsoft. Whether or not it has a long-term impact on the console's sales, it remains a significant short-term disadvantage to Microsoft for the coming months.
There are ongoing rumors that the Xbox Series X will be cheaper than the PlayStation 5, along with some legitimate leaks indicating Microsoft plans to launch a more affordable digital-only Xbox Series S console to compete with the PS5 Digital Edition. These all bode well for the company in terms of marketing a more valuable product, but if the next-gen consoles don't have enough compelling titles to entice gamers from Day One, what's the point of getting one right away?
An Xbox Wire blog post also published August 11 reconfirms the console will be released in November 2020, with "thousands of games spanning four generations," but not one of those games will be Halo Infinite. Sure, Xbox Series X will be a decent place to play next-gen versions of games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Madden 21, and Watch Dogs: Legion, but these are all games you can play on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PlayStation 5.
In terms of Xbox Series X launch exclusives, there's only The Medium, Scorn, Tetris Effect: Connected. Both The Medium and Scorn are next-gen exclusives, and they're also horror games aimed at a mature audience. And let's be frank: Nobody is going to buy a next-gen console just to play a new Tetris game. Are gamers going to risk shelling out several hundred dollars on a brand-new console in the middle of a recession just to play two flashy-looking horror games? Plenty of them will, but far more might hesitate. At the very least they might wait for confirmation that The Medium and Scorn are good games first.
For Xbox loyalists who can afford it, buying an Xbox Series X on launch day is a no-brainer, especially because Xbox Game Pass is easily the best deal in gaming right now. But now that Halo Infinite is delayed, why not wait to buy a new console until 2021? Maybe the price will drop or there'll be some random sale? In the meantime, you can play every other game you might want to on Xbox One, and with the promise of Smart Delivery, you don't miss out on next-gen versions by investing in current-gen first.
That narrow window of doubt might be just what Sony needs to entice gamers with the lure of Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales and Godfall. Because as it stands right now, buying a PS5 for launch day and waiting for Halo Infinite's release to get an Xbox Series X — if at all — seems like the way to go.
Xbox Series X will launch in November, but Halo Infinite won't be released until 2021.