Halo Infinite. Forza Horizon 5. Game Pass’ unrelenting march toward global domination by way of indoctrinating everyone on the planet. It’s hard to imagine Xbox having a better year than 2021—and, to be sure, the console’s forthcoming slate certainly seems less luminescent than last year’s. But 2022 isn’t empty, thanks to a smattering of enticing exclusive (well, console exclusive, ugh) games on the horizon.
Imagine a game that takes the fine-tuned realism of Skate and applies it to the style-obsessed art of snowboarding. Per the pre-release footage, that’s exactly what Shredders is. An E3 2021 trailer didn’t show riders spinning like a top or grinding on lift-line wires; you’ll find no SSX-style gravity-defying hijinks here. Instead, players popped butter-smooth backflips, floaty 180s, and switch backside cork 7s—a bag of tricks you could, with some practice, actually stomp in the real world. Shredders, which has gestated in prototype since 2007, was initially planned to hit the slopes in December 2021—right around the start of IRL snowboarding season—but was delayed last October.
Release Date: February 2022 (fucking hell)
If the runaway success of Death’s Door was any indication, there’s an appetite for Zelda-inspired action games on Xbox. Tunic, a game about “a small fox on a big adventure,” shares a lot of what made Death’s Door so terrific: an isometric perspective, an aww-worthy animal protagonist, striking painterly visuals, puzzle-packed dungeons, and sword-based combat against fantasy monsters. But the biggest similarity between these games is trust in the player—that you’ll figure out what to do, where to go, and how to get there with minimal instruction.
Release Date: March 16, 2022
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl isn’t out for another three months and has already stepped in it. Last month, developer GSC Game World stated an intention to include NFTs—a huge fucking scam and also just, like, the most annoying trend—in its forthcoming first-person shooter. Backlash was swift and loud, and GSC Game World walked back the announcement within 24 hours—but not before doubling down with an almost-instantly-deleted “apology.” S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, a solid-seeming apocalypse shooter, is one to watch. But if the already juicy pre-release drama, including multiple cancellations, is any indication, the conversation around the game will also be one to watch.
Release Date: April 28, 2022
For the first time in series history, Halo’s multiplayer portion is driven by a seasonal free-to-play model. Season two will bring missing features from Halo Infinite’s current build, like support for a cooperative campaign. The third season, slated to start later in the year, will add the map-creation Forge mode. If we’re talking total pipedreams, developer 343 Industries introduces some extra stuff for the single-player campaign, too. Hey, you never know! After all, late last year, Microsoft filed a trademark for “Halo: the Endless.” (Here’s a spoiler-packed rundown of what that could mean.)
Release Date: Early May 2022
Microsoft’s industry-shaking acquisition of Zenimax, the parent company of Bethesda and all its constituent studios, is already paying dividends. Though the first console game published under the new regime—Arkane’s immersive sim, Deathloop—is currently exclusive to PlayStation 5, there’s already another in the chamber. That’d be Redfall (also developed by Arkane), an open-world cooperative shooter about killing vampires. Arkane hasn’t shown off any official gameplay yet, but if Redfall is anything like the rest of the studio’s oeuvre, it’ll be gorgeous and evocative and so, so real-feeling…and also handle worse than Mass Effect’s notorious Mako.
Release Date: Summer 2022
Scorn is finally coming in 2022. Probably. Maybe. First announced in 2014, the H.R. Giger-inspired horror game showed up again in 2020 at a digital showcase meant to drum up attention for games launching in the Xbox Series X’s launch window. (This was months before the Xbox Series S was officially announced.) After a year-and-change of radio silence, Scorn’s creative director announced the game’s delay via Kickstarter update, in which he signed off with an oddly adversarial tone, practically daring backers to ask for a refund. A little on the nose, if you ask me.
Release Date: October 2022
Starfield, a game about a sandwich in space, isn’t open-world. It’s open-worlds. Bethesda’s first proper RPG in two presidencies is set on multiple planets—a fitting next step, when you consider the studio’s penchant for mind-blowingly expansive playgrounds. It’s also the first Bethesda-developed game released under Microsoft’s purview. In 2020, while describing the ramifications of the acquisition, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said “[the deal] was not done to take games away from another player base like that. … I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support.” Starfield is not coming to PlayStation.
Release Date: November 11, 2022
One of the most intriguing Xbox games of 2022 is also one of its smallest. Replaced, a 2.5D action-platformer set in a version of 1980s America that’s a biiit more neon-soaked than the real thing, casts you as an artificial intelligence unit stuck inside a non-artificial intelligence unit (aka a human). Dramatically framed scenes and combat out of John Wick give it a cinematic feel. Also: killer tunes.
Release Date: TBD 2022
If you’ve been in limbo waiting for a new game from Playdead, the makers of Inside, well, you’ll still have to wait. But Somerville might sate that craving. Somerville, a puzzle-platformer whose potential Google search rankings are kneecapped by Boston’s fourth-best suburb, looks like War of the Worlds done up in a similarly muted, pared-down style as Limbo and Inside. Little surprise there, as one of Playdead’s co-founders is credited on Somerville.
Release Date: TBD 2022
Microsoft, which has more than two dozen game development studios under its umbrella, has a ton of irons in the fire, though hasn’t penned a release window for many of them:
- Fresh off Forza Horizon 5, Playground Games is working on a new entry in the long-dormant Fable series of fantasy RPGs.
- Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II looks terrifying but gorgeous.
- Avowed is a dark fantasy RPG cooking from Obsidian.
- Obsidian is also working on a sequel to 2019’s capitalism-skewering The Outer Worlds.
- A Perfect Dark reboot is coming, worked on by a new studio called The Initiative. Crystal Dynamics, known for the recent Tomb Raider games and, um, Marvel’s Avengers, is also assisting in development.
- Bright Memory Infinite, a first-person shooter and the first game publicly shown off as running on an Xbox Series X, hit PC last year but still doesn’t have an Xbox release date.
- Rare’s Everwild, announced in 2019, won’t come out this year—the venerable studio reportedly delayed it internally until 2024—but perhaps 2022 is the year in which we finally get a glimpse at what this very pretty game is all about.
Some could come out of nowhere, for sure. More likely, they’re potentially years away. In lieu of a deep portfolio of proprietary exclusives, expect Microsoft to continue its proven strategy of convincing everyone on the planet to sign up for Game Pass; Rainbow Six Extraction, Nobody Saves the World, Atomic Heart, Slime Rancher 2, A Plague Tale: Requiem, A Memoir Blue, and Edge of Eternity, among other anticipated games, are all confirmed to come to the service the same day they’re available anywhere else.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what actually happens to the service itself. Microsoft isn’t shy of switching up its offerings on a dime; over the past few years, it’s kicked up the price for Xbox Game Pass for PC, renamed Xbox Game Pass for PC to PC Game Pass, reversed its long-standing policy about needing to pay for Xbox Live to play free-to-play online games on Xbox, and retired the Xbox Live name altogether.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has made Xbox Game Pass Ultimate—the pricier tier—more enticing, adding perks, like a bundled-in subscription to EA Play, that aren’t available to those who subscribe at a base level. At what point does such a stark divide result in a price increase?