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Microsoft is setting the stage for Xbox Game Pass to thrive

microsoft is setting the stage for xbox game pass to thrive hero
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass program should have been a huge hit.

For $10 a month, subscribers can download and play more than 100 Xbox One games, including older Xbox exclusives like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4. The program was already an affordable way to bulk up your game library, but without access to new games, it meant you’d always be playing catch up. That is about to change: On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it will add its first-party games to Game Pass on launch day. Game Pass players won’t have to pay full-price or even half-price for Sea of Thieves or Crackdown 3, as well as a slew of older games. The change doesn’t just add value for those already enrolled in the program: It makes the case for purchasing an Xbox One.

Xbox Game Pass is now the best case yet for everyone to own an Xbox One

Since 2016, Microsoft has struggled to make a compelling case for owning an Xbox One. The Xbox Play Anywhere program, which allows players who own a first-party Microsoft game to play it on Windows 10 or Xbox One, sounds great in theory, but doesn’t incentivize buying a console. Even without it, Microsoft’s first-party games have made some compelling cases for the console, but the sheer number of PlayStation 4 exclusives dwarfs anything Microsoft could offer.

Game Pass has been around since mid-2017, but has never gained much traction. Between the relatively limited selection, and the lack of new, high-profile games it has never become the industry changing “Netflix of video games” that it could (and maybe should) be. By adding its best and brightest games, Microsoft may finally give Game Pass the tools it needs to succeed, and in doing so, could find a new way forward for the Xbox platform.

What if Xbox becomes the Netflix of video games?

Looking at services like Netflix and Spotify, we know the profound potential benefits of a game console with a meaningful subscription service for new content. Players will get access to titles across a wider array of genres, rather than the shooters and racing games that currently make up a large portion of the system’s exlusives. Subscribers, less burdened by budget, will play more games. They’ll be more likely to at least try every Xbox One exclusive going into the holiday games rush, and those games will be more attractive than games from other publishers.

Halo 5 Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians

On the publisher side, moving to the subscription model opens the door for Microsoft to take more risks. Without a mandate to sell millions of copies with each tentpole title, Microsoft’s mandate will shift to accomadating a wide array of interests.

And Microsoft is ready to make more games. The Xbox Game Pass announcement comes as Microsoft reinvests its resources into first-party game development, as well – players can expect more than just the two or three worthwhile exclusives per year we’ve seen thus far. Playground Games is reportedly working on a new entry in the Fable series, and Microsoft is looking into acquiring and starting more first-party game studios. It will certainly take a few years before its roster of studios rivals Sony’s or Nintendo’s, but the value Xbox Game Pass will offer players will only go up as these new Xbox exclusives release.

Don’t count your chickens…

For Xbox Game Pass to pave the way for Xbox’s future success, Microsoft must take a page out of Sony’s playbook and invest heavily in content. Sony devotes lots of resources into traditional single-player games and other niche titles,as they give prospective PlayStation 4 owners to buy the console, which leads to them buying PlayStation games. Even if everyone opts to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, rather than picking up the latest Halo in stores, they’ll be playing on Xbox hardware, paying for Game Pass and (hopefully) Xbox Live, and they’ll be more likely to recommend it to their friends. Game Pass is play to win hearts and minds.

Crackdown 3

To win fans and help expand the Game Pass library while its own studios develop new games, Microsoft cannot rely solely on its own games. Like other content services, it must go out and aggressively court third-party games to bring games to the service while they are still in players’ minds.

Third-party publishers like Ubisoft and Activision are unlikely to launch their games on Xbox One for free through the service, but smaller independent developers likely will, with Microsoft’s payment toward them offering more security than the volatile sales charts could have. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds would be a good first step. After releasing for free alongside new Xbox One X consoles, why not give all Game Pass subscribers the game, as well?

A bright future ahead

The Xbox One has been tough to recommend over the PlayStation 4 since it launched in 2013, with considerable competition from both the PlayStation 4 and PC, and now, the Nintendo Switch. An Xbox platform that revolves around Game Pass, however, could become a good way for Microsoft to make the platform stand out. And with more players choosing the Xbox One, perhaps Microsoft will finally deem it necessary to double down on its internal development and actually give its fans exclusive games to rival the other platforms.

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If you’re in the boat, or simply want to properly prepare yourself for the remake, we’re here to help. Part of the Resident Evil 4 remake’s appeal is the way it engages with not just the original game or the series’ past, but the 20 years’ worth of gaming history that would follow it. With a game as important and influential as Resident Evil 4, you don’t need to go far to see how it impacted the action-adventure genre. The remake shines because it’s seemingly aware of that idea, examining the original through a modern lens.

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Two Atlas Fallen characters stand together in key art.

Atlas Fallen has the potential to surprise a lot of people. Although it's launching in just two months, we haven't seen much about this new game from The Surge developer Deck13 and publisher Focus Entertainment since its reveal at Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022. That's a shame because after going hands-on with an early build of it, I've found that Atlas Fallen has the potential to appeal to people who didn't like one of the year's most divisive titles: Forspoken. 
Atlas Fallen - World Premiere Reveal Trailer | Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022
Square Enix's open-world action RPG featured some neat ideas with its fast-paced magical combat and freeing traversal abilities, but many people couldn't get into it. While more focused on melee combat than magic, Atlas Fallen is a similarly ambitious open-world game that delivers satisfying movement and action that's different from the norm. That makes it a game that might scratch some itches that Forspoken didn't fully reach due to its heavily criticized writing. If it's not on your radar yet, you might want to know what Atlas Fallen has to offer.
Encouraged exploration
Based on my demo, I'm not fully sure what to expect from Atlas Fallen's mysterious story yet. The basic premise is that player was a person from the lowest caste in this world's society who was bonded with an ancient gauntlet. That gauntlet has an amnesic spirit named Nyaal living inside it and is now trying to save the world from gods that have left it in desert-filled ruins. The narrative wasn't a big focus in my preview build, though, and the script is full of jargon that probably will only make sense once I play more of the game.
A talking companion bonded to the player's arm and hand is already an unexpected narrative coincidence between Forspoken and Atlas Fallen. But neither game's story is the appeal of either to me: It's their fun traversal and combat that interest me. The few seconds of Atlas Fallen's sand-surfing and fighting in its Gamescom trailer caught my eye last year, and both lived up to the hype.
As I worked my way out of a cave at the start of the demo, I learned how to raise large structures out of the ground, surf across large patches of sand, and dash through the air with the help of my gauntlet. After I entered the game's open world, I could play around with all my movement options and found them to be a treat. Open-ended games with large worlds like Atlas Fallen can live or die on how satisfying they are to explore, and making movement fun is a crucial way developers can make traversal enjoyable.
Forspoken was able to capture some of that magic despite its problems, and it looks like Atlas Fallen has too. Of course, that's only one part of the game, as players will run into many enemy Wraiths and need to fight them. That's where Atlas Fallen's engaging combat system comes into play.
Satisfying combat
Deck13 and Focus Entertainment had yet to go into much detail about Atlas Fallen's combat before now, so I was shocked by how unique it was. The core combat revolves around attacking, dodging, and parrying, with weapons shapeshifting as you use them in different ways. It's faster-paced than I expected from a developer who previously made Souslikes, but it's the Ascension system that really caught my attention.
In between fights, players can equip their character with Essence Stones that buff or add abilities, assigning them to one of three tiers in the process. Once they are in a fight, attacking and defeating enemies causes players to gain momentum, which fills a bar at the bottom left of the screen. As this bar fills, or "ascends," players gradually gain those Essence Stone abilities, getting more powerful the more aggressive they are.
Ascending does come with a catch: The more momentum you build, the more damage you take. Players can counteract this by equipping defensive or health-related Essence Stones or using "Shatter" once an Ascension tier is filled to deal lots of damage and crystalize enemies for a short while. To succeed in Atlas Fallen, I needed to fight aggressively, but fights would quickly turn in the enemy's favor if I missed a crucial parry or dodge when I had lots of momentum.

This system gives each fight a push-and-pull feeling not common in action games. Most of the time, games like to make players feel significantly more powerful or weaker than everything around them; Atlas Fallen does both. This unique system hasn't gotten more attention and promotion, but it ultimately is what makes Atlas Fallen stand out the most at the moment.
There's something exciting about how mysterious this game still is to me, as that means there could be lots of surprises when players finally get to try the whole thing in a couple of months. It's shaping up to be an unexpected, almost accidental alternative to Forspoken. If you're still looking for an action-heavy RPG with innovative movement and combat gameplay ideas, Atlas Fallen should be on your radar.
Atlas Fallen will launch for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on May 16.

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