Best Xbox One exclusives of all time (Updated for 2021)
A living list of the best exclusives to grace the Xbox One that's updated as new gems are unearthed.
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It was tricky picking the best Xbox One exclusives because, well, there weren't as many for this system compared to the PS4 and Switch. 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. Long story short: Microsoft's beastly system is finally flexing some muscle and collected below are your best bets for good times.
Gears of War 5
The series that brought cover hopping and guns with chainsaws to the masses returns in Gears 5.
With this being a continuation of the "next generation" reboot started in Gears of War 4, you can expect to be shotgunning Earth-dwelling humanoids with a fresh cast of COG soldiers.
Most notable of these is Kait Diaz, a nomadic outsider who's been wooed into joining the military fascists who run the planet Sera. All that being said, while this faction represents the "last best hope for civilization" in a war-torn world, their dark secrets and abominable experiments from the past are about to come back to haunt them. Big time.
Action-wise, don't expect too much evolution here as it's still all about smart reloading and sensible pincer movements in arena-like fights. The developer has however layered in a tactics enhancing perk system for your drone companion, JACK, and said companion can offer some unique, asymmetrical assistance in the three-player co-op mode.
Beyond those elements, Gears 5 looks a whole lot sexier than last time and delivers more action (and gore) than anything else in the genre.
Prepare to slide into the boots of a lone wanderer in Ashen, an Action RPG that delivers wonderful shared world experiences with other players.
On your own, this will feel like a Dark Souls-style journey through a brutally difficult land filled with fantasy beasties.
Occasionally, however, you'll find other human players filtering into your adventure and it'll be up to you to decide how to deal with them. Best case scenario: you'll casually fight some baddies together and then decide to party up officially. Worst case: you just ignore them.
You're going to need all the help you can get, though. To fight in Ashen is to be limited by a stamina-based combat system that rewards shrewd strategists while punishing foolhardy button-mashers.
Likewise, players who take the time to invest in the skill crafting system while foraging for ingredients out in the field shall grow in power. The catch: the flora you need to gather probably wants to kill you, too.
Once again, you'd best buddy up with a rando (and use your new pal as diversionary plant food). It's this sort of teamwork that elevates Ashen from a good game to a great one.
Quick history lesson for the newer gamers among you: Rare is one of the most celebrated developers in all of gaming and this multi-genre compilation brings together some true gems.
That said, strict licensing restrictions have kept Rare's greatest achievements off the disc. So don't go in expecting old system-sellers like Goldeneye (N64) and the Donkey Kong Country series (SNES).
Be that as it may, the 30 titles that are included are tough to knock. Retro picks of the litter include R.C. Pro-Am, Battletoads Arcade, Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps and the modern management-sim oddities that are Viva Piñata and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.
Rare also has a long history of great platformer titles that include Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Kameo, Conker's Bad Fur Day and Grabbed by the Ghoulies.
Last but not least, you can't go past shooters like Perfect Dark (remaster), Perfect Dark Zero and Jet Force Gemini.
Make no mistake: at its current budget price, Rare Replay represents insane value for money.
Sea of Thieves
Yo ho ho, it's the pirate life for you if you decide to get on board with Sea of Thieves. With a mug of grog in your hand and a series of loaded muskets in your belt, you and a bunch of mates (first or otherwise) can go plundering in a seven seas sandbox.
What your legend will be is entirely up to you and your nefarious actions in this epic multiplayer experience. You might take the path of a discoverer, braving random storms as you sail out to strange new islands filled buried treasure.
Alternatively, a quicker way to riches might be embracing your inner buccaneer as you rip-off your fellow players.
Admittedly, when Sea of Thieves debuted, it suffered from a lack of content. However, I'm happy to say that the modes have expanded greatly since launch.
Along with a fuller Story mode you can go on Bilge Rats time-limited or permanent Adventures that will earn you Gold and Reputation.
You can also expect to lose hundreds of hours grinding your way up with the five Trading Companies: Gold Hoarders, Merchant Alliance, The Hunter's Call, Order of Souls and the Legendary Athena's Fortune.
Couple all that structured stuff with the emergent fun that just explodes out of nowhere, and Sea of Thieves truly is a jewel in Xbox's exclusives crown.
State of Decay 2
The living-impaired are at it again in State of Decay 2, an open world RPG experience that more or less forces you to co-operate with other players (if you want to stay off the zombie menu).
Sure, you can go it alone, but the future belongs to the player who can gather survivors and build a community, construct a resource producing base and develop their characters with skills.
Personally speaking, the latter RPG progression proved to be the most addictive part of this game for me. Developing my survivor's skills to improve our capabilities and boost our survival chances is a gameplay loop that digs its roots in early and deep.
When an NPC gets the chomp for real, it'll feel like an old friend has passed.
Not into nitty-gritty micromanagement? Not a worry! State of Decay 2 also holds up quite well as a third-person shooter for team play with up to three of your mates.
Everybody piling into an SUV to go mowing down zombies is a hoot. So too is putting your heads together to tactically lay siege to outposts filled with gun-toting human AI. Whatever your gameplay speed, State of Decay 2 has got you covered.
Being a huge fan of the movie Groundhog Day, Outer Wilds had me more or less hooked at an elevator pitch level. Picture this: a game that effectively traps you, a hapless spacefarer, in an open world mystery about a solar system stuck in an endless time loop.
Bit by bit, respawn by respawn, you'll have to use your detective skills to uncover what's causing this phenomenon and what lurks in the heart of the ominous Dark Bramble. Can this endless deja vu purgatory be escaped at all?
Basically, you'll have 22 minutes before the planet you're on gets caught in a supernova. The idea is to learn and memorise as much as you can in "this life" to make your next one more useful.
Quick example: you'll always spawn next to a campfire with your deactivated space rocket nearby. Only by exploring the local observatory can you acquire the launch codes needed to fire it up. Wake up for a second time, and you can now go straight from your campfire into the rocket and then a different planet altogether.
It's ingenious little puzzles like this (along with nail-biting sections that challenge you to keep your health and oxygen meters from depleting) that make Outer Wilds one of the best indie adventures in years.
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die
This is one unforgettable episodic graphic adventure for the ages. Quite a few ages, actually. You're David Young, a time traveling detective who's desperately trying to solve his wife's murder so it can be prevented in the "Alpha timeline".
The good news: there's no need for you to buy and maintain a DeLorean or a flux capacitor – David can leverage a supernatural ability to "dive" into the past by touching "memento" artefacts.
Honestly, the narrative that unfolds is delightfully Twin Peaks, a bit on the bizarre side.
Better yet, D4 is easily digestible too, as an episode is comprised of three or four hours of gameplay.
As you go along, each bite-sized morsel will draw you further into an intriguing wider story of quirky characters and mysteries that stack upon mysteries.
Dance Central Spotlight
Even if you're not known for "cutting a little rug" at your local club, you really ought to look into the Dance Central series.
It has the power to make a person with two left feet dance like Fred Astaire (or whoever his modern dance equivalent might be).
With this Spotlight sequel, developer Harmonix delivers a ton of extra routines per song and a ludicrously extensive library of additional tunes for purchase.
Beginners can ease themselves into things with a voice-activated Practice mode to rehearse difficult moves immediately in-song.
Meanwhile, the avid Disco Stus among you can test out their skills with an Expert mode that demands Beyonce levels of choreography.
Not into rhythm per se? Not a problem. Dance Central Spotlight can just as easily become your next aerobics instructor, thanks to an enhanced Fitness Mode that'll whip your butt into shape with specially authored routines.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
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. 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.
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.
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).
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!
Halo Wars 2
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.
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 a John Woo spin-off of Doctor Who.
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.
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. 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.
Gears of War 4
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.
Forza Horizon 3
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.
Ori and the Blind Forest
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.
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