A living list of the best exclusives to grace the Xbox One that's updated as new gems are unearthed.
By Nathan Lawrence
It was tricky picking the 10 best Xbox One exclusives for 2017 because, well, there weren’t that many exclusive releases for the Xbox One last year. Thankfully, over the life of the console, things fare a little better. While Microsoft still isn’t competing with the quantity of first-party exclusives for the Xbox One, in the same way that Sony is for the PlayStation 4, there are quality games, across genres, to pick from since the launch of Microsoft’s new-gen console.
The better news is that some of these games are being enhanced for the Xbox One X, either in terms of fidelity, frame rate, and/or other improvements, which means there’s a reason to revisit, or visit for the first time if you missed them. Scrolling through my list, you may notice some ‘missing’ entries that are shoo-ins on other lists. The most obvious (and deliberate) omission from this list is Halo 5: Guardians.
As a massive Halo fan, I was let down by the story. Hell, even key members from 343 Industries have admitted the story had problems. As a solo experience, Halo 5 is littered with terrible AI and linear level design: a stark contrast to the open approach to combat of the original game.
It didn’t help that Warzone was one of the first games to blur the pay-to-win lines, by incentivising players to buy card packs with gameplay-impacting contents. While the co-op experience was better, and regular PvP plus Breakout were solid, it wasn’t enough to stop Halo 5 from being mediocre.
I’ve also restricted the list to one remaster (at least, at this stage), which is why you won’t find Halo Wars: Definitive Edition or Gears of War: Ultimate Edition here. They both made my shortlist, because they’re both fantastic and hold up, but it felt weird to have three inclusions that were revamped versions of Xbox 360 games. Finally, you won’t see anything from the Xbox One Preview program, which is why PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Fable Fortune aren’t listed below. If, however, those games continue on their current Preview trajectory, you can expect to see them added to the list when they reach full release.
If you’ve gotten to the end of my list and thought, ‘Why the heck should I care about this dude’s list?’ well, here’s why. I’ve been a gamer since I was five years old, and I’m fast approaching a decade milestone as a freelance games critic. During my time as a critic, I’ve written hundreds of news stories, previews, reviews, and features about Xbox games, starting with the Xbox 360 and now on to the Xbox One. I even used to be the editor of the award-winning Australian 360 gaming magazine: an unofficial publication dedicated to all things Xbox, which sadly isn’t around anymore.
Despite taking some hits in this new-gen console generation, I still have a lot of love for the Xbox One. I’ve bought every major version of the console, and am absolutely loving the enhancements that come with the Xbox One X. In fact, despite owning every major new- and last-gen gaming platform, the Xbox One has, once again, become my platform of choice for games of late, thanks to the Xbox One X.
10. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
RELEASE DATE: 11 November 2014
DEVELOPER: 343 Industries
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios
This is actually an odd inclusion for a number of reasons. First, it’s a remaster. Second, it’s here in lieu of Halo 5: Guardians (scroll back to my intro for more on that). Third, it had a pretty shaky launch. Several patches later and a couple of (meaningful) official apologies from developer and publisher later, though, and this is the best way to play a quartet of Master Chief-themed Halo games that still stand up today.
Halo 2 has received the most love, with a complete visual overhaul, updated audio, as well as a couple of new cutscenes to tie into Halo 5. This is a mammoth package that combines Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4 (plus a free copy of Halo 3: ODST for those who played at launch), which would make it an epic offering if it was just the campaigns.
But 343 Industries went all out and included multiplayer, too, which means it’s well worth playing today (now that the kinks have been ironed out), and into the future, too, given the Xbox One X enhancements that are currently in development for it.
Click to buy Halo: The Master Chief Collection Xbox from Microsoft Store
The Master Chief Collection consists of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the anniversary edition of Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4. There have been no story or gameplay changes to the original releases. Get it today to enjoy whole series!
Action-packed open-world games are hardly rare these days, but few of them ooze the charisma and confidence of Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive. This high-speed romp through a world overrun by mindless foes shuns the post-apocalyptic trend of drab brown colours (soz, Gears of War) in favour of a ridiculously colourful palette.
This visual loudness matches Insomniac’s signature bombastic approach to player empowerment, where you can (and should) play however the hell you want. Forget about jumping in cars or choppers to get around this open-world; instead, make use of wall-sprinting, zippy zip-lining, and Tony Hawk-like rail-grinding to get around Sunset City. Like everything else, even the movement is fun.
It wouldn’t be an Insomniac game without a larger-than-life arsenal, and in this respect, Sunset Overdrive delivers the goods. If you’re not amused by the self-explanatory Acid Sprinkler, you should get a kick out of the Captain Ahab spear gun or the High Fidelity vinyl-record launcher. This tongue-in-cheek weapon humour carries over to the rest of the game, too, which is why Sunset Overdrive is such an entertaining game world to visit, whether you’re looking for a quick hit of fun or a lengthy play session.
Click to buy Sunset Overdrive from ozgameshop.com
Set your self in Sunset City in the year 2027 as a FizzCo employee and enjoy every pace of the game.
Despite the still-hot buzz for Cuphead, the biggest reason its low on this all-time Xbox One exclusives list is because of its staying power. Cuphead is the kind of game that kicks your butt and has you greedily coming back for a second helping (you sadist, you). The thing is—and I’m putting on my prediction hat here—while you may finish it once on easy, another time on the harder difficulty, and even on Expert (read: New Game Plus) mode if you’re a real sycophant for suffering—it’s not the kind of game I see people revisiting beyond its initial popular run.
That said, whether you’re playing through for the first or third time, there’s a lot to love. It starts with the stunning hand-drawn art design, continues with the toe-tapping jazz soundtrack, and continues with the gameplay. Studio MDHR deserves a lot of kudos for creating a punishing experience that challenges you to continually mash the replay button, even when you’ve already pulled out all of your hair. You’d think co-op would make it easier, but it makes it harder in some respects!
Purchase Cuphead for Xbox One from Microsoft Store
Play this cartoon game as Cuphead or Mugman and acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets, today!
For the longest time, the real-time-strategy (RTS) genre was dead on consoles. Before that, they tended to suck. It wasn’t until the original Halo Wars that (the sadly defunct) Ensemble Studios showed how the once-PC-exclusive genre could work on a controller. Creative Assembly, arguably the greatest RTS developer today, stepped in for Halo Wars 2 to build upon the fantastic Ensemble foundation.
Creative Assembly improved on the tight controls, adding crucial features like the option to create unit groupings (a must-have in RTS games). Then there are other technical achievements, like best-in-genre (including PC) audio design, which combines a dynamic soundtrack with completely re-recorded audio sounds. The result: sound design that intuitively guides you just as much as what you’re seeing on screen. Headphones are a must to get the full experience.
It helps that the tight gameplay, memorable campaign, and three-dimensional villain make for an engaging game, too. There are modes that will teach first-time strategy players to fall in love with the genre, and there are more hardcore offerings for veterans eager to test their mettle. In short, whether you’re a casual strategy fan or a general in training, Halo Wars 2 is the console RTS for you.
Buy Halo Wars 2 Xbox One from Microsoft Store
Experience a riveting campaign as Captain Cutter and his crew fight a dangerous new enemy intent on conquering everything in their path with Halo Wars 2!
If I felt it wasn’t cheating to include backwards compatible games in this list, you’d better believe that Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake would be in this list. Thankfully, Remedy released an action-packed, narrative-driven gem called Quantum Break for the Xbox One, so I don’t have to cheat.
Ever since Max Payne, Remedy has had an acclaimed history of splicing third-person action with strong storytelling. Max Payne took a noir approach. Alan Wake embraced the horror sensibilities of Stephen King. And Quantum Break shifted genres again into time-travelling sci-fi territory. In terms of the storytelling, it’s a winning move, particularly when combined with the live-action TV-episode-length cutscenes that include some big names.
The real shining star, though, is the gameplay. Instead of feeling gamified, the gameplay-controlled time powers of Quantum Break are closely tied to the narrative, and their execution is where the real fun is at. Combat arenas filled with enemies, particularly the higher-level foes that have similar abilities, are where the game shines, as you challenge yourself to come up with new inventive time-based combos to clear an area, like John Woo spin-off of Doctor Who.
Quantum Break for Xbox One from Microsoft Store
Remedy's latest is a time-warping action blockbuster and it comes with a free download of Alan Wake and other additional content.
In 2014, the next logical iteration of Call of Duty landed, and while it was built by ex-cream-of-the-crop CoD developers (a lot from Infinity Ward), ‘Call of Duty’ was nowhere to be seen in the title. Just like Infinity Ward did with the Call of Duty series when it pushed it out of World War II and into contemporary warfare with Modern Warfare, ex-Infinity Ward devs at Respawn Entertainment released the future of CoD in Titanfall.
In many respects, it was more evolution than revolution when it came to new features: the free-running of Brink, spliced with the giant combat robot fantasies of MechWarrior, played at a break-neck Call of Duty pace. But as master shooter chefs, Respawn Entertainment made the familiar ingredients into a unique-tasting dish. The lack of a meaningful solo component likely hurt its appeal but, really, this was Respawn’s way of stating Titanfall’s true appeal: the multiplayer. Dumb AI bots aside, the fast-paced, free-running duels against enemy players; the towering mech duels; or taking down a Titan as a pilot made for thrilling player-driven moments.
Titanfall 2 Xbox One Game from ozgameshop.com
Titanfall 2's campaign tells the tale of Jack Coope. Play as Jack with dreams of one day becoming a pilot with a titan of his very own.
Killer Instinct has long been the fighting series that could. Rewind the clock to Super Nintendo days, when developers were seemingly scrambling to create the next Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, and the original Killer Instinct was one of many fighting upstarts. The thing is, unlike other fighters that felt like clones of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, Killer Instinct smashed its own unique stamp on the genre.
Fast-forward to today, and Killer Instinct continues to do the same thing, despite still competing with the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighters (as well as the Tekkens and Injustices) of the gaming world. Since its launch in 2013, Killer Instinct has gone from strength to strength. Available to try for free, Killer Instinct’s real achievements come from its (premium) seasonal updates.
This doesn’t just include an ever-expanding roster of new, familiar, reimagined, and cameo fighters (props to General RAAM, Rash, and Arbiter for their punchy cameos), it also includes the insanely awesome Shadow Lords mode. This mode acts as compelling training for newcomers and addictive challenges for black-belt fighters, splicing story, arcade, ladder, and RPG mechanics into a compelling mode that keeps you coming back for more.
Get Killer Instinct for Xbox for free from Microsoft Store
Killer Instinct borrows the attack set of Street Fighter and is also inspired by the finishing moves from Mortal Kombat. Be a part of this exciting fighting game, today!
Confession time: I resisted the urge to put Gears of War: Ultimate Edition in this list, even though that particular reskin shows how well the original Gears has aged. Gears of War 4, though, shows that the franchise created by Epic Games can thrive in the hands of another developer. It feels like a Gears game should, because The Coalition painstakingly tuned the new engine animation timings to mimic those of the original games.
It’s this kind of attention to detail that builds a solid foundation for the Gears 4 gameplay formula. Sure, the story isn’t the best, but that’s been a trend of the Gears series from day dot: mostly forgettable storytelling with occasional epic moments. What’s more memorable is where it builds on the tight gameplay that came before.
The little additions to the cover-shooter formula, like being able to grab enemies over cover, are a nice touch. But it’s when you throw other players into the mix that Gears truly shines. Horde 3.0 is hands down the best iteration of the wave-based co-op mode, with free-form placement of defences, and an unmatched intensity. Competitive modes fare even better, care of a snappy 60fps frame rate, which makes for some of the best Gears PvP to date.
Click to buy Gears of War 4 for Xbox One from ozgameshop.com
Become a part of the rescue mission with JD Fenix and discover the source of a monstrous new enemy.
I honestly considered including both Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Motorsport 7 in this list, but decided on one for a couple of reasons. As beautiful as Forza Motorsport 7 is, especially in 4K on Xbox One X, it’s targeted more at a hardcore racing audience. Forza Horizon 3, on the other hand, is enough to tempt racing non-fans (like me) to take it for a spin. And it’s well worth taking for more than a few laps.
As an Aussie, it’s great to race through familiar locales, but it also lends itself to great gameplay moments. The learning curve is kind to new racers, and the sheer number of things to do means it’s tough to get bored. It also boasts one of the greatest and most beautifully nostalgic DLC drops ever made.
While motorheads will be impressed by the new driving locations and a larger garage of racing rides, the best and most unexpected DLC drop was Hot Wheels themed. Turns out blowing-up colourful tracks and cars into real-life proportions makes for the kind of gameplay experiences that are brilliant for young gamers and the young at heart.
Click to buy Forza Horizon 3 for Xbox One from ozgameshop.com
The coast of Australia is your playground. Smash through red post boxes, tin sheds and narrowly avoid roos with Forza Horizon 3.
If you played Ori and the Blind Forest when it released in 2015, you’d know it was one of the best games of 2015. If you missed it or were late to the party (like me), you can enjoy an even better experience with Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition.
From the opening prologue—which you can skip if you want to get straight into the action or are keen to avoid blaming your tears on onion slicing—Moon Studios sets the scene for a gorgeous 2D platform-adventure game. The art design is alluring, and the soundtrack is pitch-perfect, but it’s the gameplay that truly shines.
Ori and the Blind Forest is 2D Metroidvania at its best. You’ll get into the swing of things early on, but if you don’t respect your enemies, you’ll get spanked. As you unlock more abilities, you’ll be mentally tracking all of the backtracking you need to do to access areas and secrets you’ve previously missed. Put simply, this is one of the most addictive gameplay formulas you’ll ever encounter.
Click to buy Ori and the Blind Forest from Microsoft Store
The forest of Nibel is dying and Ori is there to save his home. Explore a deeply emotional story about love and sacrifice, today.
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