Microsoft Corp. showed off its most important video game for the next Xbox, a new installment of its flagship multi-billion dollar Halo series, as the company gears up for the release of the latest generation of consoles in time for the holidays.

Halo Infinite returns to the saga of Master Chief, the bioengineered super-solider main character of the series, promising bigger battles, more complicated effects and an area for play and exploration that’s several times larger than the last two games combined.  The company has said Halo Infinite, a first-person shooter and the sixth main game in the series, will launch alongside the console. Microsoft unveiled the game Thursday at an online showcase of its offerings for the Xbox Series X.

Microsoft may have more at stake with the new Halo than just driving sales. The last two installments, from 343 Industries — the studio Microsoft created to shepherd Halo after its originator Bungie split off from the software company — were polarizing among fans. Halo 5 was panned by some for a short and unsatisfying story. Last year Halo Infinite’s creative director Tim Longo left the company. 

Halo Infinite appears to be a departure from the series in some notable ways. It has a large, open world map, suggesting non-linear gameplay that will let players finish objectives in whatever order they choose. Series protagonist Master Chief now has a grappling hook, allowing him to grab items from afar and propel himself to higher locations.

Microsoft said it plans to have more than 100 games available for Xbox Series X this holiday. On Thursday, Microsoft presented 22 games, including 10 that have never been shown before, which will be exclusive on Xbox.

The latest collection is critical because exclusive titles are a key part of why gamers choose one platform over another. The selection of titles at launch is a major factor in whether Xbox gamers buy the new console right away or wait for more content. Halo has been the Xbox’s flagship franchise since the first chapter led the debut of the original Xbox in 2001, but Sony Corp.’s PlayStation has often come out ahead with more exclusive games, particularly with the current PS4. 

While Microsoft’s current console has been outsold by Sony’s machine, the Redmond, Washington-based software maker has generated a steady stream of  revenue through subscription services, which has seen a huge uptick among homebound customers during the pandemic. On Wednesday the company reported a 65 per cent percent increase in sales from Xbox games and services.

Microsoft has said that all of the games it launches over the next two years, including many of those announced Thursday, will also be released on personal computers as well as the old Xbox One. Rather than develop games exclusively for the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has focused on services such as the Netflix-style, US$10-a-month, all-you-can-play Xbox Game Pass, which has more than 10 million subscribers. Later this year, the company will add its xCloud game streaming service to the stable, with the new offering included free in the top tier of Game Pass. The goal is for xCloud to attract mobile gamers.

“The strategy the team has focused on has been to allow our fans to play the games they love wherever they want to play them,” said Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood in an interview Wednesday. 

It's a striking contrast to the rival PlayStation 5, which also debuts later this year and will lean on the same strategy that helped Sony sell more than 110 million PlayStation 4 consoles: exclusive PlayStation games. Unique titles announced for the upcoming console so far include Horizon Forbidden West, a sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, which has sold 10 million copies. Sony has also announced a PS5 remake of the PS3 classic “Demon's Souls” and made arrangements with the publisher Bethesda Softworks LLC to release the upcoming games Deathloop and GhostWire: Tokyo as timed PS5 exclusives, forcing Xbox players to wait longer to play them.

With the pivotal E3 global video game conference cancelled because of the pandemic, Microsoft and Sony have been releasing news on their upcoming consoles through individual events and later than they might otherwise have. Neither company has disclosed pricing or sale dates for their new machines.

Other reveals on Thursday included Fable, a new entry in the long-running series of role-playing games that will be developed by Playground Games, and Avowed, a role-playing game from the well-respected studio Obsidian. Microsoft purchased Playground and Obsidian in 2018. Microsoft also presented new entries in the Forza driving series and State of Decay zombie apocalypse series as well as Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition, a port of the 2018 role-playing game and the first entry in the series to arrive on Xbox. Dragon Quest is one of the largest video game franchises in Japan, where Microsoft has struggled to sell Xbox consoles over the past two decades.