Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) has given "Halo" fans their first concrete look at the next entry in the series. Halo 5: Guardians is slated for a Fall 2015 release and will undoubtedly go on to become one of Xbox One's best-selling games. It can't arrive soon enough. Microsoft's newest platform is in need of heavy hitters. Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) PlayStation 4 has opened up a substantial hardware sales lead and has scored major victories in the mind share battle. What does the future have in store for the "Halo" franchise and the Xbox One?
Will a 'Halo' game still hit in 2014?
At the beginning of this year, debate emerged as to whether or not Halo 5 would be ready in time for a 2014 launch. Microsoft had originally stated that the next mainline entry in its premier series would hit Xbox One this year, and went on to clarify that this was still the plan as recently as January. Given that Halo 5: Guardians will now debut deep into 2015, it's fairly safe to assume that the title was never actually planned for this year. That doesn't mean that fans of the series won't have something newish to play, however.
Rumors have circulated suggesting that Microsoft will publish an Xbox One remake of the company's 2004 megahit, Halo 2. The chances of such a project hitting the One in 2014 are high. Newly appointed "Head of Xbox" Phil Spencer has commented on the still hypothetical game, stating that its multiplayer component would have to be well-balanced in order to deliver the same type of experience that Halo 2 created almost a decade ago.
The remake is said to be similar in approach and scope to the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary project that launched on Xbox 360. While having a "Halo" title to release this year is undoubtedly a good thing for Microsoft and the Xbox One, it's undeniable that a remake will lack the punch that the next mainline entry in the series would deliver.
Titanfall is no Halo or Gears of War
The Xbox One is in need of its "Halo" moment. Microsoft's first gaming platform succeeded largely thanks to the highly popular shooter from Bungie Studios. The Xbox 360's second year was defined by the release of Epic Games' Gears of War, and the start of its third year was propelled by the release of Halo 3. It looked as though Microsoft was trying to position Titanfall from Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA ) as the game that would carry the Xbox One until the next major "Halo" release, but those hopes appear to have been somewhat misplaced. Titanfall is putting up solid numbers (sales across platforms have made it the best-selling game in America two months running), but it's almost certainly not driving sales of Xbox One to the extent that Microsoft would like.
The latest sales tracking data from NPD Group has the Xbox One selling 115,000 units, while Sony's PlayStation 4 moved approximately 200,000 in the period. These results arrive despite retailer price reductions and a Titanfall bundle, clearly Microsoft's console is in need of a momentum boost.
The introduction of a Kinect-less SKU at a $399 MSRP should help, but Microsoft's strategy must center around delivering on games and media content if it hopes to have a serious shot at market leadership. It's not as though PlayStation 4 has a particularly strong software lineup for the year, but consumers have shown a clear preference for Sony's hardware and product messaging. Xbox One's 2014 lineup may not have the potency to shift consumer perceptions.
Xbox One must deliver on exclusive content
The year's biggest multiplatform games are likely to run better on the PlayStation 4, making the Xbox One's exclusive content offerings all the more important. Sunset Overdrive and Quantum Break (assuming that the title launches in the calendar year) look like interesting experiences, but neither title seems to have the pull of a "Gears of War" or mainline "Halo" game. A remake of Halo 2 is a good move for a year that otherwise lacks an entry from Microsoft's biggest franchises, but a Fall 2015 release window for Halo 5 is a reminder that the console's biggest hitters are still off in the distance.
What does the future hold for "Halo"?
Look for the "Halo" series to receive huge focus from Microsoft at the E3 gaming show in June. The company should finally be ready to show off its Spielberg "Halo" television project, and fans of the series should get a more in-depth look at 2015's Halo 5: Guardians. A Halo 2 remake is also likely to be unveiled, making 2014 a big year for the series, though not as big as Microsoft may have initially implied.
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