2023 was a pivotal moment for Xbox. Having acquired Activision Blizzard and released multiple first-party games, Microsoft spearheaded a new era for its gaming business. This series of events has given the brand a great jumping-off point, setting it up for success in the future.
Despite a promising outlook, Microsoft lacks big hitters in its first-party lineups. While Starfield was expected to be the first of many explosive exclusives for the platforms, critical and fan reception has not lived up to expectations.
However, I believe Xbox is on the verge of greatness, and 2024 will be much better. With a notable game like Hellblade 2 on the horizon, Ninja Theory could deliver the big break Microsoft has been chasing since games like Halo 3 and Gears of War became a force to be reckoned with.
Why it matters: Xbox has been stuck behind PlayStation for the longest time since 2013. A quality first-party output is, therefore, necessary to change this scenario.
Mainstream Appeal & The PlayStation Comparison
It is no secret that the mainstream market has become used to cinematic single-player adventures.
As the market leader, PlayStation dictates much of the gaming industry’s current tastes, and you don’t need to look too far to understand that cinematic single-player games are the bread and butter of PlayStation’s first-party teams.
Franchises like God of War, The Last of Us, and Horizon Zero Dawn use this approach as a foundation for something bigger, but Xbox has lacked developers that deliver similar games for better or worse.
Apart from Gears of War, most Xbox games, Starfield included, lack the flair and production value of such games. This brings me to Ninja Theory. In 2017, this studio released a game focused on the overall experience, much like a PlayStation exclusive.
Combining elements like psychological horror, hack-and-slash combat, and captivating environmental storytelling, this game delivered a thought-provoking narrative on par with AAA releases despite having a lower budget.
Back then, I felt Ninja Theory had a winning formula on its hand, but much has changed in the years leading up to Hellblade 2. With the game now being an Xbox console exclusive, it has been tasked with helping Microsoft reclaim its position as a formidable gaming giant.
In my opinion, Ninja Theory has the perfect recipe for a global hit, thanks to elements that appeal to the masses. This mainstream appeal could prove to be vital, flinging Hellblade to the status of an iconic Xbox franchise on par with IPs like Halo or Gears next year.
A Current-Gen Showcase For Xbox Series S|X
Last week, Ninja Theory debuted a new Hellblade 2 trailer. Like past showings, the game looked stunning yet again.
While the Xbox Series X has been the industry’s most powerful console since 2020, excluding the odd release like Alan Wake 2, it has rarely been able to flex this hardware advantage.
Meanwhile, PlayStation games like Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy 16 have shown the console’s technical capabilities through distinct features like instant loading and seamless transitions.
Xbox still lacks a definitive current-gen game, and while Forza Motorsport certainly looks impressive, it lacks the consistency I expected from Turn 10. Hellblade 2 should be able to fix this problem for Xbox.
The game is being built on Unreal Engine 5, and Ninja Theory has received a much bigger budget this time. Each trailer thus far has demonstrated that Hellblade 2 will feature class-leading visuals, enhancing its immersive nature.
If the game’s final build delivers visuals on par with the recent footage, Hellblade 2 will not only be one of the best-looking current-gen games, but it will also justify Microsoft’s decision to pack the Xbox Series X with more horsepower than the PS5.
Ninja Theory’s History
Those familiar with the developer’s past work know full well that this team has been very underrated in the past. With games like Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West on its portfolio, the studio has shown a knack for well-crafted games.
I have been a fan of Ninja Theory’s work for the longest time, and it brings me no shame to admit that I even enjoyed DMC: Devil May Cry as an alternate spin on the franchise despite all its shortcomings.
The talented folk at this studio have shown time and again that they excel in multiple areas of game development, and their history leads me to believe Hellblade 2 will be the best showcase of their talents yet.
With 2024 just days away, the Xbox fandom, including Phil Spencer, is expecting big things from this release.
The stage is set, and the ball is in Ninja Theory’s court. If I had to bet, my money would be on the game proving that Xbox’s first-party lineup has come a long way from the wasteland it used to be not too long ago.
Avinash is currently pursuing a Business degree in Australia. For more than three years, he has been working as a gaming journalist, utilizing his writing skills and love for gaming to report on the latest updates in the industry. Avinash loves to play action games like Devil May Cry and has also been mentioned on highly regarded websites, such as IGN, GamesRadar, GameRant, Dualshockers, CBR, and Gamespot.