Xbox One Launch Lineup Preview: Potential, Little Substance

If you buy the Xbox One on Nov. 22 for half a grand — and you want to feel good about your investment — we recommend you can comfortably identify yourself as falling into one of the following categories:

  1. You’re an “early adopter,” and you get high on the idea of owning brand new, potential-rich technology.
  2. You’re a Microsoft brand loyalist, and also fall into No. 1. You owned one of, or all of, the following: Xbox 360, Xbox, Windows PC, Windows Phone, SmartGlass, maybe even a Zune, and your purchase of the XB1 is a forgone conclusion. Go for it, this is for you.
  3. You’ve always wanted to get into console gaming but haven’t yet, and you figure why not start here, and start early.
  4. You feel that you simply must play Ryse: Son of Rome, or Dead Rising 3, or Crimson Dragon, right now.
  5. You love the Kinect, and the idea of navigating TV listings with it.

If you don’t fall into any of the above categories, there probably isn’t a burning need for you to rush out and buy the Xbox One right away. Like all consoles upon launch, the Xbox One is like a nicely built ship traveling at an extremely slow rate of speed. The initial game lineup is thin, risk-averse, and underpowered — and that isn’t really anyone’s fault. That’s always how this goes. A console’s launch has more potential energy than kinetic, and it probably won’t be until the end of 2014 that we see the Xbox One really start to cook.

At its worst, the Xbox One’s launch lineup looks like a regular game release month — could be any old November — but one you’ll pay an extra $500 to enjoy. At its best, it’s a decent lineup with at least a couple games you’ll pick up and enjoy right away, with more on the way relatively soon (like March 2014′s Titanfall, for instance).

Having said all that, Game Front did get a chance to play-test a bunch of Xbox One launch titles at a media event in San Francisco last week. For those interested, here’s a little about each of the games we — Editor-in-Chief Mark Burnham and Associate Editor Ben Richardson — played. You can also check out our more in-depth impressions of Ryse and Project Spark.

 

Ryse

Mark Burnham

This is undoubtedly the flagship Xbox One launch title, a gory, gritty and (somewhat surprisingly) fun brawler set in ancient Rome … kind of. Ryse plays fast and loose with history, selecting the most bad-ass characters and historical elements from different time periods and throwing them all together. You play as Marius Titus, a Roman Centurion who Must Not Be Effed With.

Ryse is a much better game than it seemed at E3 2013, where it was presented as an overly easy, button-mashing QTE-fest with swords. Instead of Rome QTE: The Game, Ryse comes off more as Batman: Arkham Rome. Clearly inspired by the Caped Crusader’s rhythm-based combat system, Ryse rewards perfect timing with more XP, better mo-capped “executions” (of which there are more than 100), and sheer depth of challenge. Much like Batman’s “evade” ability in the Akrham games, Marius can shield-parry on a dime when being attacked from any direction (within one frame, I was told). This anchors the system and sets up the ability to string together long, fluid combos.

Environments are varied and look great on the Xbox One (even though Ryse “only” runs at 900p), ranging from invaded Roman cities to shipwrecked beaches to dark forests full of barbarians. While the enemy character models can look almost comically similar — I was attacked by a group of identical, fat, long-haired enemies, standing side-by-side — this is definitely one to check out if you’re picking up an Xbox One in November.

 

Crimson Dragon

Mark Burnham

It’s described as a “brand-new IP,” but Crimson Dragon is clearly a spiritual successor to the 2002 classic Panzer Dragoon Orta, which I played a sh$%-ton of on the original Xbox.

The essence of gameplay is the same — you control a flying dragon through sprawling on-rails levels, and use alternating modes of fire to strategically eviscerate and cook clumps of enemies large and small, eventually taking on massive, multi-phase Japanese-grade bosses. A key difference in Crimson Dragon is that you’re a part of an entire army of dragon-riding soldiers, which means that you’ll have access to multiple species of dragon. You can access a sort of bestiary where you keep them all, and can spend points to upgrade (or “evolve”) them into new, more powerful forms. One nice touch: evolved dragons start to look more ornate and beastly as they are improved in-game.

Rail shooters are especially tough to get a handle on with only a few minutes of play, so it’s difficult to say how this one is shaping up — and, more importantly, if it will live up to the beautifully designed Panzer Dragon Orta. This may be my nostalgia talking, but that isn’t an easy act to follow (which could be why it’s being purposefully branded as a “brand-new” IP…)

For Panzer Dragoon fans, it’s at least a comfort that series creator Yukio Futatsugi is still at the helm. That news, combined with the fact that Crimson Dragon is available on Xbox One via XBL on day one, and the fact that it is your only option to satiate that shooter fix at launch, makes it at least worth a look.

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2 Comments on Xbox One Launch Lineup Preview: Potential, Little Substance

john smith

On November 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Little substance what? So what’s this clown think of the PS4 launch lineup?

Mark Burnham

On November 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm

@john smith
“Like all consoles upon launch, the Xbox One is like a nicely built ship traveling at an extremely slow rate of speed. The initial game lineup is thin, risk-averse, and underpowered — and that isn’t really anyone’s fault. That’s always how this goes.”

Notice the word “all.” Console launches are always this way.