You didn’t have to watch much of Xbox’s E3 2021 event to understand two things: the Xbox team really wants you to subscribe to Game Pass, and the incoming barrage of Xbox exclusives includes an impressive number of RPGs.
Starfield and The Outer Worlds 2 were the RPG highlights of Microsoft’s E3 2021 showcase, but those games only scratch the surface of Xbox’s RPG plans. There’s also The Elder Scrolls 6, Avowed, Fable, and a host of third-party RPGs either exclusive to Xbox platforms or easily accessible via Game Pass. The Xbox vs. PlayStation 5 debate became a lot more interesting after E3 2021, and for RPG fans, that potential decision may be tougher than ever before.
Honestly, that’s probably the point of Xbox’s impressive RPG lineup. After all, if they’re going to challenge Sony again when it comes to quality and quantity of exclusives, what better way to do it than target one of the few weaknesses in the PlayStation armor?
To be clear, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good PlayStation RPGs. Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Bloodborne, and Persona 5 are arguably three of the best RPGs of the PS4/Xbox One generation, and PlayStation obviously still has the support of every major JRPG studio in the business. Even many recent PlayStation Studios exclusives (like Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn) successfully incorporate RPG elements, with those latter two examples being pretty close to full RPGs. You’re not exactly starving for attention if you’re an RPG fan who owns a PlayStation console.
Yet, you probably noticed that list isn’t exactly bursting with CRPGs or the kind of Dungeons and Dragons-inspired RPG experiences that once defined the genre. For those kinds of games, PlayStation gamers have typically had to rely on ports from third-party developers.
That’s what makes Microsoft’s approach so interesting. By acquiring Obsidian and Bethesda, the Xbox team has essentially taken two of the best RPG studios in the world off the table. They’ve also added Inxile Entertainment (one of the most underrated RPG studios in the world) to the Xbox family, and they’re already asking Playground Games to take a stab at the genre with Fable. You’ve also got studios like Rare and Ninja Theory whose previous works suggest they could potentially make a noteworthy RPG if called upon to do so.
The Xbox team’s strategy puts PlayStation on awkward footing as far as future RPGs go. There are a few well-known and incredibly talented RPG studios out there that PlayStation could acquire (Larian Studios is somewhere near the top of that list), but the list is certainly a little thinner than it used to be. The PlayStation team could also ask some of their first-party studios to pick up some of the genre slack, but with so many of their major development partners committed to new entries in established franchises, it’s not entirely clear at this time who may be in a position to take up that call.
What’s really fascinating is that I don’t even think the Xbox team believes that they’ll outsell PlayStation simply by offering what appears to be a stronger next-gen RPG lineup. RPGs can absolutely be blockbusters (it’s going to be especially interesting to see how The Elder Scrolls 6‘s exclusivity is handled, so far as that goes), but if Microsoft was just trying to sell as many consoles as possible, they’d probably go after bigger genre fish.
No, the entire point of this strategy seems to be that someone recognized that there’s a bit of a deficiency in the market at the moment for these kinds of Triple-A RPG experiences. At the very least, it gives the Xbox team their best shot of saying, “Hey, here’s an experience you get with Xbox that you really don’t get anywhere else.” It also gives RPG developers who need quite a bit of money to make their dreams a reality a very interesting new partner to potentially turn to.
That’s really the point here. If you can say nothing else good about them, at least you can say that exclusive games create competition in the market by incentivizing console manufacturers to target their competitor’s weaknesses (whatever they may be) or even beat them at their own game. Whether Microsoft inspires Sony to pursue even more RPGs, manages to bring Xbox games to more devices via their cloud programs, or simply put out some truly epic experiences, Xbox’s suddenly aggressive pursuit of new RPGs could end up being good for everyone.