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 majority of the war before a last minute surge from Sony 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, God of War, Spider-Man, 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. However, based on the fact that Xbox seem to be working closely with Nintendo, their console exclusives seem to be getting thinner and thinner.
While there are still plenty to come in 2020 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
15. 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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. Gears 5
Developer: The Coalition Publisher: Xbox Game Studios Release date: 2019 Play Anywhere? Yes
No, not “of War”, just “Gears”. Xbox’s rebranding of the Gears of War franchise was a bit of an odd, unnecessary move, though arguably the most questionable thing about the game is its monetisation. Alongside microtransactions that offer a terrible grind as the alternative, Gears 5 is also a weird ad for Terminator: Dark Fate with special characters from that tie-in also being stronger than the normal ones.
It’s a shame, because the campaign is far more engaging than its predecessor, the equally polarising Gears of War 4. You control Kait as she navigates more open environments in some of the most jaw-dropping sequences you’re likely to find on your Xbox One, a crazy amount of fidelity squeezed out of what is now a rather aged console.
While it may not be the revolutions Gears were hoping for, 5’s inclusion on Game Pass means that it’s at least worth checking out.
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