The first big reveals of the year are on us with Xbox’s Developer Direct 2024. Microsoft’s approach to the format puts the devs themselves centre-stage, and can bring some nice, presumably unscripted, moments of humanity, such as this year when Marc Meyer at Oxide games was interrupted by someone walking across the background trying to get a drink.
This time we heard from Xbox studios Obsidian Entertainment, Ninja Theory, Oxide Games and Machine Games –, and there was even a surprise guest spot for Square Enix.
So, here are our highlights from the show. What was yours? Let us know in our Discord.
I think someone should mention Visions of Mana and Ara: History Untold. With that out of the way, the Xbox Developer Direct was bookended by Avowed, which manages to look better and better with each new reveal, and Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, which seems very different to the games it inspired, namely Tomb Raider and Uncharted. But it was Senua's Saga: Hellblade II that really caught my attention.
Ninja Theory created a truly unique experience that could be genuinely unnerving and I almost feel guilty for not seeing the original through to the end. I loved the storytelling, the visuals, the pacing, the top-class audio design and the world itself. Despite pushing through as far as I could, there were too many monsters and not enough shotguns for me to go all the way. Even now I'm unsure of how events played out, as I've convinced myself I'm going to finish it. One day.
The combat is said to be very different in the sequel, though we didn't get to see any, outside of a brief cutscene. I'm not interested in a Dark Souls level of difficulty, but something a little more complex and engaging would certainly be welcome.
I've purposely avoided many story details and the developers appear to be following suit, instead talking mainly about the production of Hellblade II and how they are committed to providing an in-depth representation of Senua's psychosis. They did a pretty good job the first time around, I couldn't ever be sure if all of the sights and sounds were "real" or not. Or which voices, if any, I should be listening to. It's a relief that the voices in my own head all sound like me and can be safely ignored.
Given that I only just talked about how much I’m looking forward to Avowed, you’d think I’d be the perfect audience for the first segment of Xbox’s presentation, going behind the scenes at Obsidian to see how the game is shaping up.
From the limited amount of actual gameplay we saw, it’s definitely ticking the right boxes, but, more importantly, the passion and excitement the devs talk about the game is what really gets me curious about exploring this world.
While acknowledging this is yet another game I will play and never finish.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, may avoid that fate however, given it is reportedly only about 8 hours long and is a very focused, linear narrative. The cerebral aspect, which delves into the psychological trauma of the character from the first game, also adds a surprising amount of depth to the character, even as someone who hasn’t jumped into the series before.
While the Civilisation series has been a mainstay of my gaming past, I can’t say there’s too much new or innovative going on in Ara: History Untold for me, but perhaps I am judging a book too much by its cover. Or perhaps, given its historical focus, that should be judging a…manuscript by its cover?
Finally, there’s no surprise that a licence as well-known as Indiana Jones would get another gaming outing at some point, and if any team can make the whip-cracking adventurer work in first person, it’s Machine Games.
In the end, a strong showing for Xbox, indicating a handful of good-looking titles coming to Game Pass this year, but are any of them real blockbuster smashes which expect to bring in new players by the thousand?
For those of us already subscribed, I suppose it doesn’t matter. More good games out in the world can’t be a bad thing, right?