There are many reasons why the Xbox 360 was such a success for Microsoft. It came out earlier than the PS3 and was available at a more sensible price, but the biggest factor in it winning the war -as is the case in almost every console generation- was the exclusive games it boasted.
During the 360’s lifetime, returning franchises from the original Xbox were given welcome updates alongside fresh IPs making themselves mascots for a new generation. There was also stellar third-party support, but most consumers were swayed enough by the likes of Halo and Gears of War to stick around. Its games were so good that even widespread technical issues couldn’t harm the Xbox 360 cause a disaster.
That really says something.
But then the Xbox One was announced: an all-in-one media center which didn’t even seem that hot on letting people play games. Many controversial decisions from Microsoft, such as bundling the Kinect with the base console at a higher price, were deterrents for many 360 gamers to upgrade, which caused Microsoft to do u-turns on their decisions.
The damage had already been done.
It’s been years since the Xbox One was released and there’s still the impression that it’s a console that has yet to hit its stride. A big reason for that might be its exclusives, or lack thereof.
While Sony have been hitting it out of the park with efforts like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4, Microsoft’s unit-shifting mainstays have underwhelmed. It might not have helped itself by trying to bring about the death of the “true” exclusive with its Play Anywhere feature. Of all the games available on the system, it only has just over thirty that you can’t find anywhere else. To make matters worse, they’re mostly Kinect titles.
However, with Microsoft’s announcement of the acquisition of five studios at E3 2018, the lack of Xbox One exclusives may be about to change — or at least the foundations will be in place for the future of the Xbox brand. Compulsion Games, Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs, and the brand new The Initiative will all be a part of the Xbox family going forward.
While there are still plenty to come in 2019 and beyond, it’s time to look at some of the essential Xbox One exclusives we’ve seen so far.
Bear in mind that the Xbox One doesn’t really boast a great deal of true exclusives as many of their big-hitters can also be found on PC because of Play Anywhere; consider this to be a list of solely console exclusives instead — we would basically be left with Halo 5 otherwise.
In addition, we’re avoiding remasters and collections, so Rare Replay and The Master Chief Collection don’t make the cut (as good as they are). This is also an updating list – if something like whatever their new studios have cooking up delivers on their promise, it will be added.
The Best Xbox One Console Exclusives
17. Ryse: Son of Rome
Developer: Crytek Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2013 Play Anywhere? No
An Xbox One launch title, Ryse looked like the next generation of console gaming had arrived without necessarily playing like it. It’s a visual feast which lacks any real meat, turning to repetitive combat far too often.
There’s nothing wrong with that if a murderthon is what you’re after, something which Ryse will oblige in bringing to you in spades. Its Roman setting is well-realised and its characters relatively well fleshed-out, though you may walk away from it still feeling peckish. Absolutely worth checking out if you like blood and guts, though, so approach it with an open mind if you want to be pleasantly surprised.
16. Super Lucky’s Tale
Developer: Playful Corp. Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2017 Play Anywhere? Yes
I don’t think anyone really expected Super Lucky’s Tale to turn around the fortunes of the Xbox One. We’re always crying out for platformers which nod to the classics, but unfortunately for Super Lucky’s Tale, it didn’t bring enough of its own ideas to the table.
While being clearly inspired by N64 platformers, Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t endear itself to younger gamers by carrying over some of the staples of that era. The camera is unreliable and the controls feel a bit slow off the mark, something which makes it feel like more of a chore than some throwback fun. Thanks to its bright visuals and charm, however, it’s at least worth a look.
15. Halo Wars 2
Developer: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2017 Play Anywhere? Yes
The sequel to the beloved RTS original on Xbox 360, Halo Wars 2 might have launched to a bit of a whimper, but it’s hard to deny its charms. It can’t hold a candle to almost any RTS on PC, but it bridges a gap between hardcore and casual strategy games well enough to appeal to players of both.
Expanding the Halo universe, Halo Wars 2 introduced new villains and heroes while improving upon its predecessor in key areas, though it can feel flat at points during its campaign. It isn’t going to change the lives of RTS, or even Halo, fans, but if you’re looking to scratch an RTS itch from the comfort of your couch with some competent gamepad controls, you will most likely be satisfied.
14. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
Developer: Access Games Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2014 Play Anywhere? No
Madder than the Mad Hatter after stubbing his toe, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die isn’t going to be for everyone. It graduated from the school of lunacy as Deadly Premonition, which is probably explained by it also being developed by Access Games and executive produced by SWERY.
Already a cult favourite, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is an episodic story-driven game which is difficult to explain. It features scuffles with a woman cat (not Catwoman), QTE fistfights on aeroplanes, and cel-shaded visuals that capture the eye. Don’t worry about the Kinect features and just descend into madness, but make sure you don’t descend too far – it doesn’t look like it will be getting the sequel it needs.
13. Crackdown 3
Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2019 Play Anywhere? Yes
Listen, Crackdown 3 is not a great game, but does it really need to be? Neither of the first two games in the trilogy were what you would call groundbreaking, more what you could call just straight up dumb fun. While that ethos may not mesh well for most modern games, those looking for something to help them put their brain on ice for a bit will be well placed with Crackdown 3.
When the world’s electricity is taken offline, you must play as Terry Crews (there are other characters, but there’s also Terry Crews so you only need one) to take down mob bosses, cause destruction, and collect more orbs than you can fit in your pockets. There’s absolutely zero nuance here whatsoever and is as deep as a puddle singing a Staind song, but sometimes a bit of light entertainment is just what you need.
12. Black Desert
Developer: Pearl Abyss Publisher: Pearl Abyss Release date: 2019 Play Anywhere? No
Is Black Desert more than a crazily detailed character creator? Does it have much beyond the beautiful veneer, and will creating your character be the most fun you get out of the game in total? No, Black Desert is a decent if slightly grindy MMORPG that is a good appropriation of its PC counterpart.
The depth and variety isn’t quite there like some of its peers, but if it’s a more violent version of Second Life you want, Black Desert has you covered. There’s a lot of content here too, but the grind becomes very real before too long if you want to get anywhere. At this time of writing, Black Desert is only really just getting started as an Xbox One console exclusive, so watch this space.
“For those players who may not have a great computer and would like to try something in the genre on their Xbox, Black Desert will be cool (for a bit at least), but otherwise, the PC version fixes some of the small problems. Still, that doesn’t take away from what is otherwise a successful port of a large MMO to consoles.”
Developer: Respawn Publisher: EA Release date: 2014 Play Anywhere? No
I, probably like a few others, could defend Titanfall until I’m blue in the face. While it’s hard to argue that the lack of a campaign did nothing to hurt its longevity, Respawn’s wild new FPS was a thrillride while the going was good.
Featuring parkour, giants robots, and an almost impossibly frenetic pace, Titanfall was a shot in the arm for the FPS genre on the Xbox One, but for whatever reason, most people didn’t stick around for long. The playerbase dwindled and its lobbies emptied over time, leading many gamers to claim that it had “died”. While that wasn’t entirely the case (it maintained a dedicated following through its lifetime), things were improved for its sequel, Titanfall 2: a game with less sales but remarkably higher acclaim. It’s almost moot to check the original Titanfall if you haven’t yet, though you can get it for “free” with EA Access.
10. Forza Motorsport 7
Developer: Turn 10 Studios Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release date: 2017 Play Anywhere? Yes
You should always know what you’re getting with a Forza game: gorgeous visuals and some of the most pinpoint controls for a racing game that you will find on the market. In that regard, Forza Motorsport 7 might be one of the best in the series and comes packed to the gills with content. You could get dozens of hours of it without even realising.
It’s a pity, then, that Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios had to bend the knee to industry conventions and jam in loot crates where they don’t belong. It feels so inorganic and completely against the ethos of Forza as a whole –playing to unlock extra content– that you might be comfortably better off playing one of the earlier games in the franchise instead.