Microsoft’s second (hopefully annual?) Xbox Developer Direct went, like the first, exceptionally well. While we didn’t get a shadow-dropped killer exclusive – and let’s be honest, that’s not an expectation that Team Xbox probably wants to set – we did still get the surprise of a behind-the-scenes look at Square Enix’s upcoming Visions of Mana. Better yet, we got a good look at gameplay from Obsidian’s upcoming first-person RPG Avowed, we got the Hellblade 2 release date we’ve been waiting for, and best of all, we got the proper reveal of Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, the new first-person (!) action/adventure/puzzler/whip-simulator that’s being executive produced by Elder Scrolls and Fallout director Todd Howard. I’m extremely pleased with Microsoft’s showing, and it helps set the tone for what should be a very good year of Xbox exclusives.
Let’s start with the unquestionable headliner of the event: Indiana Jones. It’s looking stellar on the latest version of id Software’s idTech engine, and it surprised many with the fact that it takes place primarily from the first-person perspective. In hindsight this makes a lot of sense, because not only is developer MachineGames’ entire catalog comprised of first-person games (i.e. Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, their various expansion packs, and the incredible original-Xbox exclusive the team made when they worked together at Starbreeze, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay), but quite frankly, Naughty Dog already did the whole third-person Indiana Jones thing quite well four times. If MachineGames had gone third-person, the online discourse following the reveal would be absolutely toxic, with Sony fanboys downvoting and comment-bombing the trailer, calling it an Uncharted clone. Going first-person not only leans into the studio’s expertise, it allows them to put their own spin on an Indiana Jones game.
Indiana Jones and the Great Circle – Xbox Developer Direct Screenshots
More exciting for me was how much of the aforementioned Riddick’s DNA is plain to see in Indiana Jones. The Great Circle promises first-person melee combat, stealth, and a little bit of gunplay – a description you could also apply directly to Riddick. And let me be clear: if Indiana Jones ends up being a 2024 version of Riddick but with Indiana Jones, I would be fully on board with that. Riddick is, in my I-played-everything-on-original-Xbox opinion, one of the five best games for Microsoft’s first console. It’s that good. And if Indiana Jones delivers something of that caliber by 2024 standards then we’re all in for a treat. And speaking of a treat, The Great Circle is due out later this year!
Hellblade 2 had perhaps the next-best showing, simply because it looks absolutely stunning and has all the makings of a top-tier third-person narrative-driven action-adventure game. If it suffered in the Xbox Developer Direct, it’s only because most fans, I’d argue, are more than convinced and simply want to know when they can play it. We got that long-awaited release date, fortunately, meaning we’ve got something that has the potential to be very special to look forward to on May 21.
Avowed was the third heavy hitter in this year’s Xbox Developer Direct lineup, and it showed well, but I don’t think it knocked off nearly as many socks as Indy and Hellblade did. Don’t get me wrong: Avowed has a lot going for it. The diverse landscapes look absolutely gorgeous, the character interactions look ripe with multiple-choice potential, and the dialogue will no doubt shine, given Obsidian’s track record. The renowned RPG developer has already told us to expect a smaller-scale game than the Elder Scrolls games it might immediately resemble, but that’s OK! We can be confident the story will deliver based on the studio’s own recent smaller-scale first-person RPG, The Outer Worlds. Combat looked a little stiff, and that’s what’s dragging it down a bit for me. But I have every reason to believe that it’s going to be an RPG well worth playing.
I don’t have much to say about Ara: History Untold, as we knew going into the Direct that it would be a deeper look at a very niche PC game. And that’s perfectly OK! I would respectfully argue, though, that perhaps the Xbox Developer Direct wasn’t the best venue to showcase it, given that the event was almost certainly watched primarily by Xbox console fans rather than PC gamers.
Finally, we got a surprise in the middle of the Direct: Visions of Mana, the next entry into the long-running action-JRPG series. I adore the art style here and it’s great to hear that it’s not only arriving this summer, but it will launch the same day on Xbox as it does on rival platforms. To that end, I think this unexpected appearance would’ve hit a lot harder had Visions not just been announced a month ago at The Game Awards, but this was clearly a public display by Microsoft to say, “Look Square, we really care about you and your games and we want you on our platform!” Which, quite frankly, I don’t blame Microsoft for.
All in all, though Indiana Jones carried most of the weight for this year’s Xbox Developer Direct, it was nevertheless an excellent showcase. Xbox gamers now know, here at the very start of the year, that it’s going to be a pretty solid year of exclusives: Hellblade 2 in May, STALKER 2 in September, and Indiana Jones and Avowed in the Fall. And again, it’s only January. There will no doubt be more exclusives than that hitting Xbox this year (Replaced, for instance). We’re off to a great start!
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s a North Jersey guy, so it’s “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.