E3 2021 revealed an exciting future for Xbox Series X — and Game Pass is now essential

e3 2021 Xbox showcase Battlefield 2042
(Image credit: Electronic arts)

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X has been criticized by all manner of people, including myself, for not having any standout next-gen exclusives, especially after Halo Infinite was delayed and impressive PS5 exclusives have been trickling out since Sony’s console launched. 

But gaming action happens beyond media, forum and Twitter discourse and Microsoft came out swinging at E3 2021. The Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase was a storming display of upcoming games for Xbox and PC.  

I’d have liked more of a Halo Infinite deep-dive and some idea of where Fable 4 is at in its development, and any mention of Avowed. But a release date trailer for Starfield, the reveal of Forza Horizon 5 and Redfall, and Battlefield 2042 gameplay and S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2: Heart of Chernobyl footage and… well a heck of a lot more, was enough to show that Microsoft has an enviable stack of exclusive games. 

Granted, a lot of these games will be exclusive in so far as you won’t be able to play them on the PS5; they’ll be on the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and powerful gaming PCs, as well as the Xbox One in some cases. But if you can only choose between the PS5 vs. Xbox Series X, then Microsoft has given you a very compelling reason to get it’s black rectangular gaming box. 

As someone who has no loyalties to either Sony or Microsoft's gaming machine; both gaming editor Marshall Honorof and I have long discussed the benefits of both consoles, I’m still very happy at the positive reception Xbox got at this year’s E3, especially after last year’s tricky E3-not-E3 presentation was marred by criticism of Halo Infinite's graphics

Clearly, buying Bethesda and snapping up a lot of developers over the past few years seems to be coming to fruition for Microsoft, especially as big-hitters like Starfield and now Xbox and PC exclusive. 

Time to chase Xbox Series X restocks

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve been chewing over entering the fray of finding an Xbox Series X restock or considering if getting one of our best gaming PCs is worth the effort, then the number of Xbox and Windows 10 games coming out over the next 18 months is a compelling argument for taking the plunge. 

Somewhat curiously, Microsoft didn’t go into a lot of depth about how all these games it has under its corporate belt will run on the Xbox Series X or use the showcase to tout how it has the most powerful games console. 

Rather, the games were left to do that talking. And this was more than enough. 

At the end of each trailer, alongside release dates there were snippets noting which consoles they were coming to. While some will come to the Xbox One and Xbox One X, demanding games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator, will need the next-gen consoles or a powerful gaming PC. 

That means if you want to enjoy these exclusives at their best then an Xbox Series X is the machine you’ll need. Before you shout at me PC gamers, unless you have a powerful machine right now, you'll probably need an upgrade. And finding where to buy a Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 or a desktop machine with Nvidia or AMD’s latest graphics cards is even harder than locating Microsoft's in-demand console. 

Suggesting now is the time for you to go out and get an Xbox Series X is easier said than done. But there’s another interesting element to the Xbox E3 showcase that wasn’t given the limelight but is kind of a big deal. 

Gaming in the clouds

Microsoft xCloud game streaming

(Image credit: Microsoft)

And that’s Xbox Cloud Gaming. It’s still in a beta form given that you can only stream Xbox games to Android phones via the Game Pass app, providing you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

But as part of an E3 showcase recap, Microsoft quietly mentioned that cloud-powered game steaming is coming to Xbox One. That means current and future best Xbox Series X games will be able to run on the older Xboxes thanks to Microsoft’s cloud power. So if Microsoft's plans come to fruition, you could end up playing Starfield or The Elder Scrolls 6 on your Android phone, iPhone or iPad or on your Xbox One.

Providing you have a decent internet or cellular broadband connection and are willing to pay $14.99 a month, Microsoft has effectively democratized next-gen gaming. And that’s pretty special.

Xbox Game Pass is an undeniable must-have  

Speaking of Xbox Game Pass and pretty special, it’s now an utter must-have for any Xbox fan. 

I’ve already harped on about Game Pass being the best bargain in gaming; it provides access to more than 100 Xbox games, old and new, for about $10 a month. Game Pass Ultimate is even better, as for $15 a month you get access to a selection of PC games as well, cloud streaming with syncing between the different platforms. 

However, at E3 Microsoft noted that not only is Game Pass getting a whole suite of new games from day one of their launch in the run up to the holiday season, but future games, including Starfield and Back 4 Blood, will also launch on the service. 

Given the best PS5 games can go for $70 a pop, getting access to what could be killer Xbox and PC exclusives for $10 to $15 a month, is frankly incredible. 

Sony doesn't do E3 presentations any more, and instead seems to have State of Play events throughout the year. The last showed off Horizon Forbidden West, and the PS5 has the likes of God of War 2: Ragnarok and Elden Ring as big hitting exclusives for 2022. But after the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase, the lack of a PlayStation presence at E3 has felt particularly noticeable. 

Of course, Sony is having no problem with making the PS5 appealing, evidenced by how it's still stupidly difficult to find a PS5 restock. However, this strong showing from Xbox will likely see Sony cook up a hefty PS5 retort. For gaming fans that’s all good news. 

And with Nintendo having a stellar Direct E3 2021 showcase, with the reveal of Metroid Dread and giving The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 a rough release date, this E3 has been a good one. And the second half of 2021 looks to be a great six months for gaming. 

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Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.