When the news broke that Halo Infinite had been delayed until 2021 and will no longer be an Xbox Series X launch title, my initial reaction was rather subdued (despite the seismic shock waves that were undoubtedly rippling through the industry).
Clearly, this wasn’t in the script. And I’ve no doubt that Microsoft will have agonized over delaying Halo Infinite. But I can’t help but feel that the game's underwhelming gameplay reveal was partly responsible. If it had been well-received by fans, there’s no way Microsoft would be pushing back its flagship title, that much is for certain.
And yet here we are, less than three months from the launch of Microsoft’s next-gen console in November, and Halo Infinite won’t be present. That makes the short-term case for buying an Xbox Series X a difficult one, as the console will be relying on Xbox Game Pass and backwards-compatibility to persuade consumers to part with their money from launch, if at all.
- PS5 vs Xbox Series X: how do the consoles stack up?
- Xbox Series X vs Xbox One X: should you upgrade?
- Xbox Series X games list: all the titles heading to Xbox
I’ve mentioned before that Microsoft really doesn’t care if you buy an Xbox Series X, and I still firmly believe that’s the case. However, the Halo Infinite delay points to the type of mismanagement at Microsoft that I hoped was over. It’s reminiscent of when the company disbanded a number of high-profile studios and canceled hyped-up titles like Scalebound and Fable Legends, which didn't cast the company in the best light.
Since then, Microsoft has purchased a variety of exciting and creative studios, such as Ninja Theory and Obsidian, and stated on countless occasions that it will be making games that will compete with Sony's exceptional first-party studios. And yet its biggest game from one of its key studios will be missing in action, which hardly inspires confidence in Microsoft's promise.
Sony has a history of delaying its games too, of course, with notable push backs to The Last of Us 2 grabbing more than few headlines. However, I can't recall Sony ever delaying a previously announced launch title. Sony has also built up a degree of trust. If its games are delayed, people are willing to give PlayStation the benefit of the doubt that it's for the right reasons and that they will ultimately deliver. When Microsoft does it, people point to games like Crackdown 3, which certainly did not deliver, even after being famously delayed multiple times.
Of course, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be understated. No one could have contemplated how forcefully this dreadful virus would shake the foundations of our society. But for a game that has been in development for over five years, repeatedly promised as a launch title for Xbox Series X, and handled by one of Microsoft's key studios, it seems like a convenient excuse rather than a valid one.
That might sound harsh, but Microsoft could have done more to placate this type of reaction, and help fill the crater-sized hole it leaves in its launch lineup by being more forthright. If it had any inkling that Halo Infinite wasn’t coming until 2021, it should have focused on pushing other titles more prominently, like The Medium or Scorn. Instead, all the chatter and excitement revolved around Halo Infinite, for better or worse, and that seems almost irrelevant now.
While many will point to the decision to delay Halo Infinite as the source of any future misfortune Microsoft may face, the honest truth is that the company has been struggling to regain momentum for a while now.
Expectations were set astronomically high and subsequently dashed during the first Xbox Series X gameplay reveal, and there’s a consensus that other than making the case for Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft is still missing a true system seller. Halo Infinite was tipped to be it, and it would at least have driven Xbox Game Pass subscriptions up, particularly for PC players.
Make no mistake, then, Halo Infinite’s delay will have significant ramifications for the Xbox Series X. It will encourage more people to cast an envious eye over to the PS5 than Microsoft would have liked, and once that investment has been made, it will be tremendously difficult to pry more money from consumers' hands – especially in this challenging economic climate.
With Microsoft still sitting on an inevitable Xbox Series S reveal and that all-important price point, it seems that Sony will get another head start this generation, courtesy of an almighty fumble from its closest competitor. November is right around the corner, but the Xbox Series X is coming in cold instead of blazing hot. Halo Infinite's delay might just have finished this fight before it's even begun.
- PS5 games list: every game coming to PlayStation 5