Microsoft Announces Console Upgrades, New ‘Call of Duty,’ and ‘Flight Simulator’ Titles

(Microsoft Image)

Xbox plans to streamline its efforts for the remainder of 2024, with new releases for three major franchises from its new subsidiary, Activision Blizzard. In addition to these, several highly anticipated Xbox games are slated for next year, a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator will launch this fall, and an all-digital model of the Xbox Series X|S is set to hit stores this holiday season.

These announcements were part of this year’s Xbox Games Showcase, which aired Sunday during the Summer Games Fest in Los Angeles. Xbox executives Phil Spencer, Matt Booty, and Sarah Bond presented over 75 minutes of trailers and world premieres.

Microsoft officially introduced three new models of the Xbox Series X|S hardware, designed for release this holiday season. The new lineup includes a Series S with a 1TB hard drive ($349.99), an all-digital Series X with a similar upgrade ($449.99), and a limited-edition black Series X with a 2TB hard drive ($599.99).

Beyond the substantially increased storage options, no other improvements over the launch-edition Series S|X were noted. The primary change is the introduction of a Series X model without a disc drive. Previously, gamers who preferred digital media over physical had to opt for the less powerful Series S. This change addresses logistical challenges for developers who had to ensure their games functioned on both versions of the hardware. Now, all-digital players can upgrade to the X.

Bond confirmed that Xbox is “hard at work on the next generation,” corroborating last year’s leaks that despite contrary rumors, Microsoft will continue producing physical hardware for the upcoming 10th generation of consoles. Analysts have long predicted that the industry’s shift toward cloud gaming would lead to an all-virtual console market, but that future is not imminent.

Entering this year’s SGF, Xbox appeared positioned for success despite recent controversies, including two waves of layoffs. With Sony effectively absent and Nintendo being quiet as it phases out the Switch, Xbox had the stage to itself, alongside major third-party developers like Capcom, Ubisoft, and Electronic Arts.

The Xbox Showcase kicked off with a first look at Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, set to release on October 25. Set during the first Gulf War in 1991 and featuring Saddam Hussein as an antagonist, “Blops” 6’s campaign will be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch, following reports from last month. Traditionally, Call of Duty games rank among the year’s top sellers, and Xbox hopes inclusion of BO6 in Game Pass will boost subscriptions without diminishing sales.

From the Blizzard side of Activision Blizzard, a new trailer for the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion celebrated the MMORPG’s 20th anniversary slated for November. Helmed by original creator Chris Metzen, The World Within takes players to underground cities in the first of a planned trilogy, scheduled for release on August 26.

The reception of World of Warcraft’s last expansion, Dragonflight, was positive, countering the game’s perceived decline since the underwhelming Battle for Azeroth in 2018. Despite diminished juggernaut status, WoW continues to attract about 360,000 daily players, with expansions typically driving temporary player spikes.

In a similar revival, Diablo IV’s “Loot Reborn” season, released in May, garnered rave reviews. Its next expansion, Vessel of Hatred, is set for October 8, featuring campaign extensions and a new character class.

A new edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator is planned for release on November 19. Developed with France’s Asobo Studio, MSFS 2024 lets players simulate careers as working pilots, engaging in activities like airline operations, air racing, search and rescue, cargo transport, and aerial firefighting.

This latest MSFS installment features Microsoft’s Azure AI, continuing to refine the processes from the 2021 version. Previous versions used cloud streaming and satellite data to provide real-time updates of the environment, including weather patterns, city constructions, and landmarks. With rumors of the 10th-gen Xbox incorporating dedicated AI cores, MSFS 2024 is a project to watch for technological insights.

Looking ahead

As revealed in April, Xbox might have faced significant losses in Q2 without its acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Consequently, Xbox’s strategy for the rest of 2024 is understandably cautious.

Games like World of Warcraft, Black Ops 6, and Microsoft Flight Simulator are proven successes, with dedicated audiences. Likewise, the improved reception of Diablo IV adds to this secure lineup.

The first major extension for Starfield, Shattered Space, remains set for this year, along with a major content update that launched Sunday night. Additional releases include a new Assassin’s Creed game in mid-November, Life is Strange: Double Exposure on October 29, and STALKER 2: Heart of Chornobyl on September 5.

Xbox appears to space out its releases strategically, ensuring a consistent flow of new content without overwhelming the market. However, this schedule pushes some anticipated titles from Xbox Game Studios to 2025.

Heavily relying on Activision Blizzard, Xbox focuses on servicing the lucrative “games as a service” model, with Activision Blizzard commanding three leading franchises in this area.

Other notable news from the Xbox Games Showcase:

  • The Showcase concluded with the world premiere of Gears of War: E-Day, seemingly a prequel to the first game in the series. Players will reprise the role of Marcus Fenix, a soldier defending a human colony from the alien Locust. Only a cinematic trailer was provided, with no further details.
  • Rumors of a new Doom game surfaced earlier this year, resulting in The Dark Age, a prequel exploring the storyline introduced in 2020’s Doom Eternal. The Doom Slayer returns to battle Hell’s forces as a soldier in Argent D’Nur, now equipped with a chainsaw-edged metal shield.
  • Playground Games shared a new trailer for its reboot of Lionhead Studios’ Fable series. Set in Albion, a quirky fantasy version of medieval England, players will navigate the quests of a novice adventurer choosing between heroism, villainy, or something in between.
  • Seattle’s Undead Labs has been quietly developing the next installment of its zombie survival series State of Decay since being acquired by Xbox Game Studios in 2018. Following allegations of toxic workplace conditions in 2022, many assumed the studio was shuttered. However, a new trailer for State of Decay 3 focused on its cooperative elements was unveiled, with no release date mentioned.
  • Compulsion Games showcased a gameplay trailer for South of Midnight, scheduled for release next year. Players control Hazel, who must use newfound magical powers to survive post-hurricane and find her missing mother.
  • Electronic Arts presented a new trailer for the upcoming Dragon Age game, The Veilguard, releasing this fall. Although details are scant, the return of fan-favorite Varric is confirmed. This is a pivotal release for BioWare (Mass Effect), which has faced project failures and departures in recent years.
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