Microsoft’s first-party shopping spree has continued unabated since we last checked in on Xbox’s stable of studios in 2018. Since then, Microsoft has added none other than the entirety of Bethesda/Zenimax in one fell $7.5 billion swoop, bringing the total number of Xbox Studios members to 23. We’re going to cover most of them here (i.e. not Bethesda’s support studios or Xbox Game Studios Publishing, which handles internal support and third-party exclusive relationships). Let’s see what we either know – or suspect – they’re all up to!
Current Known Project: Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite Multiplayer Gameplay Trailer – E3 2021
It’s been one a hell of a ride for 343 Industries ever since Halo Infinite’s announcement back at E3 2018. After two impressive teasers that showed off the potential of its proprietary new Slipspace graphics engine, and the Xbox Series X announcement at The Game Awards 2019, it was immediately positioned as the flagship day-one launch title for the new console (though it will also come to Xbox One). That launch day status would soon end after a poor gameplay reveal in July 2020 forced Microsoft to rethink its approach to the beloved series, and that included a full year’s delay into Fall 2021. Whether or not it launches on November 15 to hit the exact 20th anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved, 343 has a ton of pressure on them to hit this entry out of the park after Halo 5’s actual campaign failed to live up to its grandiose marketing campaign. Microsoft took it on the chin by delaying Infinite, but it was the right move, as was announcing Infinite multiplayer being free-to-play and PC getting full launch support. It will now be six years between mainline Halo games, and Infinite cannot fail, lest the franchise be forever damaged. 343 has had ample time and budget to get this right, now they have to deliver.
Current Known Projects: Deathloop and Redfall
Arkane is an Xbox studio that’s currently working on…a PlayStation 5 exclusive. Deathloop is a timed PS5 exclusive thanks to a pre-acquisition deal Bethesda made with Sony. Regardless, Deathloop is an intriguing first-person shooter with a groovy style that seems to incorporate roguelike elements courtesy of its main time loop mechanic. It’s being made by Arkane Lyon in France, while Arkane Austin has a new Xbox-exclusive project up its sleeve: Redfall. It was a surprise reveal at Xbox’s E3 2021 showcase, and it’s an open-world co-op first-person shooter set in a vampire-infested world plunged into darkness. It’s from the team that brought us Dishonored and Prey.
Bethesda Game Studios
Current Known Project: Starfield
As the crown jewel of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion Bethesda acquisition, Todd Howard’s Bethesda Game Studios team is hard at work on not just their first new game since Fallout 4 in 2015, but their first original franchise since the original Elder Scrolls. That game is Starfield, a space-bound sci-fi RPG where you join the Constellation, and it is the ace up Microsoft’s sleeve: a completely original new game from the creators of Elder Scrolls and Fallout. It’s due out on November 11, 2022, meaning that we already know what Xbox’s biggest Fall game is for both this year and next.
Current Rumored Project: Gears 6
Microsoft’s Gears studio is almost certainly hard at work on (surprise, surprise) Gears 6. Based on the series’ recent release cadence, we would’ve expected it in Fall 2022. Except The Coalition is basically now telling us that they’re going to need more time as they make the expected but exciting switch to the new Unreal Engine 5. That engine upgrade practically guarantees that, like all of its predecessors, it’ll be a jaw-droppingly gorgeous game. Story-wise, Gears 6 has plenty of loose ends to tie up, as Gears 5 ended on a Kait-tastic cliffhanger after forcing players to make a gut-wrenching decision near the end of its campaign.
Current Rumored Project: Unknown
The Montreal-based studio shipped We Happy Few to generally mixed reviews for publisher Gearbox back in 2018. Now they’ve folded into the Xbox family, and barring a massive staff-up, they’ll remain a medium-sized studio. As such, it’s probably not wise to expect anything from them anytime soon, as their last game before that was Contrast back in 2013. If we were betting on it, we’d look for a new IP in the second or third wave of the Series X generation.
Current Known Project: Psychonauts 2
Legendary game designer Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine were already neck-deep in work on the sequel to Schafer’s 2005 original-Xbox cult-classic Psychonauts prior to their acquisition by Microsoft in 2019. Now they’re nearing the finish line on Raz’s new telekinetic adventure, with Schafer telling IGN in a December 2020 Podcast Unlocked interview that the studio was likely to do something completely new afterwards (read: not a sequel or game based on any other Microsoft-owned property). Psychonauts 2 will be released on August 25.
Current Known Project: Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark Game Awards Trailer Screenshots
So, the rumors were true. Microsoft’s new Santa Monica-based ‘AAAA’ studio is working on a reboot of Rare’s Perfect Dark, a first-person spy shooter that appears to be mixing in a bit of Mirror’s Edge in this version as well, if its cinematic reveal trailer from the 2020 Game Awards is anything to go by. Perfect Dark was being directed by Sunset Overdrive director Drew Murray before he returned to Insomniac earlier this year. The idea remains an intriguing one, though. Perfect Dark was beloved on the Nintendo 64, but Perfect Dark Zero stopped the franchise in its tracks before this latest attempt. Here’s hoping The Initiative can hit a homer in its first official at-bat.
Current Known Project: Unknown
Most of the original Hall of Fame talent that changed gaming forever with Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake has long since moved on, but a new generation of id Software developers, led by creative director Hugo Martin – himself raised on Doom – have returned id to the short list of the game industry’s most talented development studios. Doom Eternal was brilliant, and its recent DLC, The Ancient Gods, seemed to conclude the Doomslayer’s story. Will Doom continue, or will id turn its attention to resurrecting and reimagining another of the old studio’s creations? Quake, anyone? We are eager to find out.
Current Rumored Projects: Unknown
Revered RPG developer Brian Fargo and his team recently finished Wasteland 3, an old-school RPG that was Kickstarted prior to Microsoft’s acquisition of inXile. Now the team is working on not one but two new Unreal Engine 5-powered RPGs. We have no idea what they are, including whether or not they’re original games or if the studio is dusting off one of the old IPs in Microsoft’s vault (if they are, please be Shadowrun!). But the bottom line is that this studio knows good RPG mechanics, and now that it has the financial backing of Microsoft, we should see its full potential unleashed.
Current Known Project: Indiana Jones
You’ve seen how talented MachineGames is if you’ve played any of their impeccably good, narrative-driven Wolfenstein revivals, but this team’s talent goes back even further than that: the core crew here was also the team responsible for the Xbox classic – and title-holder for Best Movie-Based Game Ever – The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. The announcement that MachineGames is working on an Indiana Jones game – and that Todd Howard is directing it – caught us by quite the pleasant surprise. Will it be first-person (which is all Machine has ever done)? Will it use the idTech graphics engine (which is what the Wolfenstein games are all built off of)? We’re not expecting to see or hear any more about this project for a while, but our whips and fedoras are on standby for when they’re ready to tell us more.
Current Known Project: Minecraft
Minecraft, always Minecraft. Sometimes some Minecraft spinoffs, like the pretty-darn-good Minecraft Dungeons.
Current Known Projects: Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Project Mara, The Insight Project
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade sequel was officially the first Xbox Series X game ever announced, as it was revealed alongside the console itself at The Game Awards 2019. We’ve since learned that it will be powered by Unreal Engine 5, but beyond that, we don’t know much else. It’s highly unlikely to ship anytime soon, given that its engine isn’t even done yet. But when it does, it should bring the interactive exploration of mental health to a whole new, larger audience. Ninja Theory’s other two known projects, Project Mara and The Insight Project, are also focusing on mental health as their themes.
Current Known Projects: Avowed, Grounded, The Outer Worlds 2
The studio best known for Fallout: New Vegas has been on a heck of a roll lately. Obsidian has a burgeoning community with their Early Access survival game Grounded, which is basically a playable version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, while another team at the studio is hard at work on Avowed, a first-person open-world RPG – seemingly in the vein of New Vegas – that’s set in the Pillars of Eternity universe. And they just announced The Outer Worlds 2, a first-person sci-fi RPG sequel that will now be exclusive to Xbox.
Current Known Projects: Fable and Forza Horizon 5
Playground expanded from one studio – the seemingly infinitely talented creators of the sublime Forza Horizon driving game series – to two, with the new crew tasked with rebooting Fable, the beloved Xbox action/adventure/RPG series that went into hibernation when Lionhead, the studio that originally developed it, shuttered. The new Fable’s reveal teaser succeeded in showing everyone that Playground understands the whimsical, charming tone Fable should have, and we also know that it will be built on the same open-world game engine that Forza Horizon is. So expect, at the very least, some glorious four-season weather effects.
Meanwhile, Forza Horizon 5 was a surprise announcement at E3 2021 and will be released on November 9. It’s set in Mexico and will feature the largest game world Horizon has ever seen. It’s upping the ante by including major weather events like dust storms and live volcanoes.
Current Known Project: Everwild
Everwild Xbox Series X Screenshots
Sea of Thieves sails on with more of a tailwind than ever thanks to the new Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in, but Rare also has a new game in the works: Everwild. It’s been shown twice so far, but we haven’t seen a proper gameplay demo, nor is there a public release window as of yet. From those trailers, it looks like it might borrow at least some of the Sea of Thieves framework, but it’s otherwise tough to glean much from its fantastical setting. As fans continue to call for the classic Rare IPs, like Banjo Kazooie, to be dusted off, Rare seems more interested in forging new paths. With the continued success of Sea of Thieves, it’s hard to argue with them.
Current Known Project: Ghostwire: Tokyo
In Tango Gameworks, Microsoft finally has its own Japanese game development studio. Shinji Mikami’s team created two critically acclaimed Evil Within survival horror games, but Tango has now moved on to Ghostwire Tokyo, a first-person…well, we’re not sure yet. Combat director Shinichiro Hara describes it as “karate meets magic.” Paradoxically, this one is another timed PlayStation 5 exclusive like Deathloop thanks to a deal Bethesda made with Sony prior to being acquired by Microsoft.
Current Known Project: Forza Motorsport
Turn 10 had turned around new Forza Motorsport games on a predictable biannual cadence for years, but that ended after Forza Motorsport 7 in 2017. Instead, the talented team at Turn 10 has been busy rebooting its venerable simulation racing game, rebuilding ForzaTech from the ground up for Xbox Series X and S as well as PC; it’s not confirmed, but all signs point to Xbox One being left behind so that the new hardware can be pushed as far as possible. Will the new, simply named Forza Motorsport get sequels every two years as before, or will Motorsport simply become an umbrella under which all future content updates will live? That remains to be seen but is somewhat likely, given the direction the industry has moved in recent years. After Turn 10 recently solicited community playtesters, though, don’t expect the studio to stay quiet for too much longer.
Current Known Project: State of Decay 3
All we know about State of Decay 3 is that it exists. Is it finally the realization of “Class4,” the codename Undead Labs assigned the better part of a decade ago to a planned massively multiplayer online sequel to “Class3,” aka State of Decay? Maybe, but regardless, what we’re really hoping for is for State of Decay 3 to finally deliver the AAA polished experience that this brilliant concept deserves. Both State of Decay 1 and 2 were incredible zombie-RPG simulations masquerading as open-world games, but both were done on relative shoestring budgets and both suffered from technical problems and general jankiness that dragged the otherwise great gameplay down. Now they have the full power of Microsoft behind them as a first-party studio, so it’s time for them to shine.
Zenimax Online Studios
Current Known Project: The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online recently celebrated its seventh anniversary, and it has grown and improved tremendously in that time. It has added Morrowind and Skyrim, among many other things, and it now officially supports the Xbox Series X and its 12.1-teraflops of horsepower. However, studio head Matt Firor recently reconfirmed to IGN in an upcoming IGN Unfiltered interview that the studio is also in the early stages of a new next-gen project. Firor’s comments in the same interview seemed to suggest that it won’t be Fallout Online. Hmm…
As you can see, Microsoft is playing to win the next generation by fortifying and reenergizing their first-party stable of studios. How this massive pile of first-party games turns out remains to be seen, but with any luck, the Xbox’s best days are still ahead of it.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Features and host of Podcast Unlocked.