Forza Horizon 5 arrived with a bang at the start of November. There was a huge amount of hype, helped along by an open and informative pre-release campaign from Playground Games and Xbox.
The game had the biggest launch of the year, reaching over 10 million players and it picked up amazing reviews, with a 92 Metacritic score and 8.6 user score thanks to its awesome graphics and providing an open adventure in a world that has shrunk down over the last two years.
However, since then the player base of the game has crumbled. What's going on with it? And can Playground Games reverse the trend?
Some of FH5's huge release was down to it being a Day 1 Xbox Game Pass title. That gave millions access to the game for free. Combined with a strong pre-release cycle it became a juggernaut, attracting more than four million players on Xbox in its first 24 hours and eventually peaking over the 10 million total players mark.
Since then it's been downhill. Hard.
While exact numbers for Xbox are hard to come by, the Steam audience has disappeared. These are players that paid full whack for the game, and after peaking at more than 80,000 players it's now seeing just 16,000 at a daily peak.
This is a worrying trend for a game that needs to hook players for expansion packs and car pack DLCs to make up revenue from giving away access to the Xbox masses.
With some serious bugs and connectivity issues across the multiplayer aspects of the game its not a surprise to see players leaving. There is also the issue of content within the game.
An empty world
One of the reasons we gave Forza Horizon 5 a relatively mild score in our review is that there isn't actually that much to do within the game. Racing is samey as it is largely the same familiar AI as in FH4.
With each race feeling the same, and only a few hours of a shakey story to dive into, there isn't much to do beyond exploration and collecting XP boards or barn finds. Once that is done, why would a player come back?
The answer should be multiplayer content, but with convoys broken from Day 1 and leaderboards pulverised by cheaters and bugs there's not much to do there either.
Expansions are coming, but can that really coax players back? Especially when it cost those casual Game Pass players real money to get them.
Just a re-skin
There was a worry among seasoned Horizon players that FH5 would just be a re-skin of FH4. A new world will always be interesting to explore, but racing and driving all feel the same as before. Game mechanics like The Eliminator, seasonal challenges, and wheelspins are all exactly the same as when we were racing around the UK map of Forza Horizon 4.
That's not to say similar is bad. There's still plenty of fun to be had in Mexico if you enjoyed FH4, but there is no reason to keep coming back. F1 has career mode, Gran Turismo has strong online connectivity. Assetto Corsa Competizione has competitive league racing. Forza Horizon 5 has... what exactly?
Sure, there are plenty of cars to add to your garage and XP boards to smash, but once you've found the barns and broken the boards what is there to do? Another race against on-rails AI? It's a casual racer without a reason to race. Which is why the player base has vanished like the friends you were trying to convoy with in Guanajuato.
What can Playground Games do?
At this point there doesn't feel like much the developers can do to make FH5 a more engaging game.
Fixes for bugs and multiplayer connectivity have rolled out, but with other huge titles like Halo Infinite grabbing the spotlight, getting those casual players back in with hotfixes isn't likely.
Outside of dropping new collectibles around the map or totally overhauling the AI to make racing more engaging there isn't a lot to do that will entice players back into the game. Expansion packs, especially another LEGO-based one, could bring people in for a week, but that's not a long-term fix.
If the Horizon series is to remain a flagship for Xbox, they'll need more than a new map and a Game Pass release come Forza Horizon 6 to get players to part with their money.