With Redfall’s stumbles, the pressure is on for Starfield

Judging by reviews and early impressions, Redfall is a resounding disappointment for Xbox and Bethesda. Hyped as Xbox’s first AAA release in over a year and one of the most significant things to come from Xbox’s 2021 acquisition of ZeniMax Media, Redfall isn’t quite living up to those lofty expectations. While I’m still working through the game myself, I’ve played enough to know that this open-world vampire shooter pales in comparison to Arkane’s previous titles and its co-op shooter peers.

Coming after one of Xbox’s roughest years ever in terms of exclusives and the failure of the Activision Blizzard acquisition, it’s not a good look. It puts an excessive amount of pressure on just one game in Xbox’s lineup: Starfield.

As a AAA game from ZeniMax Media’s premier studio, the successor to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and Xbox’s biggest exclusive since Halo Infinite, Starfield needs to unequivocally succeed in most metrics to save Xbox. There are other games like Hi-Fi Rush and Forza Motorsport, but none are as critically vital on as big of a scale as Starfield. Bethesda Game Studios and Xbox can no longer afford to mess up the launch of Starfield.

Redfall’s failure is Xbox’s failure

While Redfall was in development prior to the acquisition of ZeniMax Media, it wasn’t revealed until E3 2021, making it the first new ZeniMax game Xbox has marketed as its own. The game has appeared at most Xbox showcases since its announcement, has constantly been pushed in Xbox’s social media and Game Pass advertising, and was even delayed by a year to improve its quality. As such, Redfall being a stinker hurts Xbox even further, as this is the biggest first-party game to be associated with Microsoft’s developer and publisher purchasing spree so far.

Although ZeniMax Media operates independently under Microsoft, to general audiences, Redfall will hold the same weight as an Xbox Game Studios exclusive like Gears 5. In fact, it’s even a bit more exciting as it could potentially be the start of a brand new exciting live service franchise, something Xbox players have needed since Sea of Thieves. Due to Redfall’s underwhelming nature, though, it doesn’t seem like it will captivate players beyond a cursory Xbox Game Pass subscription download.

Coming off an April where Minecraft Legends underwhelmed and the Activision Blizzard acquisition got blocked by the U.K., things don’t look great for Microsoft’s gaming efforts right now. Its 2022 was mostly devoid of big exclusive games, and many Xbox exclusives and day one Game Pass titles that were promised to come out before June 2023 haven’t — and likely won’t. The one exception to this seems to be Hi-Fi Rush, which came from the ZeniMax-owned Tango Gameworks and seemed like a viral hit after its surprise launch in January.

Its expertly executed rhythm action gameplay, charming characters, and distinct visual style kicked Xbox’s 2023 off on a great note and seemed like the first true benefit of Microsoft’s ZeniMax acquisition. Still, its financial success has been questioned, and in general, it’s winning on a smaller scale than games like Redfall and Starfield need to. Independently, Redfall may just seem like another flop that the Xbox division of Microsoft will be able to rebound from. And while that might be true, it may also be building pressure to the breaking point for Xbox as a whole.

Starfield can’t fail

Whether its a success or failure, Starfield‘s reception will be shouted from the rooftops. Bethesda Game Studios is a studio that has revolutionized the game industry with multiple titles and was the crown jewel of Microsoft’s ZeniMax acquisition. Starfield will take that developer’s ambition to space, promising a story and game that live up to Bethesda’s level of quality across over a thousand planets.

A space explorer stands in front of a mountain range in Starfield.

It’s an ambitious game, one that’s as hyped as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. As such, Starfield is a game people will be watching very closely before and after its release, and all of these factors impacting games like Hi-Fi Rush and Redfall only ratchet up the pressure that the title faces.

If Starfield fails, it could be the most devastating blow to the Xbox brand yet. It’d mean we’d go two years with no standout big-budget Xbox exclusive, despite heaps of money spent on acquisitions, game development, and the creation of next-gen hardware. It’d put the Xbox leadership team’s efforts into doubt as there will have been little payoff from the billions spent on game developer acquisitions since 2018. And Xbox making Redfall and Starfield exclusive, only for them to disappoint, would be a move unforgiving video game fans will never forget.

Xbox is doing great things for the industry with ID@Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, and its willingness to let studios pursue smaller passion projects. That approach may only be sustainable, though, with massive hits to balance them out. Starfield may be the most pivotal game for the future of the Xbox brand since Halo: Combat Evolved, all because of the string of failures that preceded it.

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