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Inside Xbox brings more questions than answers, and other highlights from this week on Speedrun

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Realigning expectations after Microsoft’s touted gameplay stream

Graphic with four images from video games, the top of the next gen Xbox and a smiling portrait of Jimmy Mondal Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

In hindsight, I may have set my expectations too high.

PC gaming’s gradual upgrades have slowly desensitized us to striking graphics, and current consoles have almost made 4K the norm. Microsoft’s Inside Xbox stream on Thursday — which showed off Assassin’s Creed Valhalla running on the Series X — confirmed what many of us already suspected: this next console leap won’t be as instantly exciting as those of the past.

But maybe that’s reductive, and a bit unfair. I’m picking at low-hanging fruit by calling Series X graphics underwhelming. I’m ignoring the possibility of better simulations, believable physics, and photo-realistic lighting that 12 teraflops of GPU can afford. I’m also ignoring the fact that, by and large, the developers working today are more informed, and more daring, than those working five years ago. As always, the next generation of consoles is less exciting for what the machines can do, and more for what they can let creators do.

That’s why the Speedrun team had so much fun this week. We dove deep into the writing of our favorite Assassin’s Creed games. We lauded the subversive gameplay of John Wick Hex. We even celebrated May the Fourth by looking back at the boldest Star Wars games to ever grace our boring galaxy.

But we didn’t just celebrate developers. We also spoke directly to them. Sam Barlow talked about the unexpected timeliness of Telling Lies, and how video calls have obliterated our routines. Warframe’s Rebecca Ford gave insight into how drastically the covid-19 pandemic has altered player habits. She also waxed poetic about birdwatching.

So, yes, I may have been unfairly expecting a visual bombshell from the Series X presentation, and no, it didn’t deliver on that front. But it did showcase some super weird new games. It got me incredibly excited for more Assassin’s Creed. And above all, it reminded me that my favorite games are almost never about the graphics. They’re about the ideas beneath the veneer, and the people who made them.

We’ll be back Monday with more Speedrun.. And to all of you mothers, maternal figures, and caretakers out there: Happy Mother’s Day.