The 10 best Xbox One
exclusives of 2017

A closer look at the 10 best games of 2017 that were exclusive to the Xbox One.

By Nathan Lawrence

You’d think (read: hope) that Microsoft would have learnt its lesson in responding to what Xbox One gamers truly want in 2017. It’s no big mystery. We want more games, and more exclusives, to be precise. While the release of the incredibly powerful Xbox One X is a great step forward in terms of console technology, it’s sad there wasn’t a killer app (or three) to go alongside its launch. Unless you want to count Super Lucky’s Tale, but that was hardly the best game to showcase the Xbox One X’s power.

But that won’t stop me from including Super Lucky’s Tale in this ‘best of’ list for Xbox One (soz, spoilers), because we’re dealing in exclusives. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t a fantastic year for Xbox One exclusives, especially not in quantity. That’s not to say there weren’t some great games, but when it comes down to creating a list of 10 that are wholly recommendable, it’s actually made harder by the smallish size of the list of exclusives.

In the interests of full disclosure, I initially, in a panic, thought I’d have to delve into the Xbox One Preview program – which is, in fairness, a fantastic boon for Xbox One gamers – to pull in the likes of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fable Fortune. Thankfully, I haven’t had to do that, and these titles can have their rightful time in the sun – if their current trajectory is any indication – when they hit their respective 1.0 releases, assumedly in 2018.

Still, you’ll likely notice that my pick of the 10 best Xbox One exclusives of 2017, arguably, start out a little shaky because there just ain’t 10 truly amazing exclusives to pick from. Once you get past the first few, things are a whole lot more agreeably positive, but you’ll have to preserve with some of my lower-ranked options. I’d also like to flag that these games are also only console exclusives and not platform exclusives, because of the (frankly fantastic) Play Anywhere program that means these games are also available, at the very least, on Windows 10 PCs.

Our justification

Here’s why the hell you should care about my list. I’ve been a freelance games critic for close to a decade. I’m the ex-editor of the awesome but sadly defunct Australian 360 gaming magazine: an unofficial Xbox magazine that reigned around the time of the Xbox 360. I believe that the Xbox 360 ruled the last console generation, and while it didn’t get off to the best start, I believe the Xbox One is now on the right course. Not to sound like a broken record, but we just need more exclusives, please, Microsoft.

The first home console I bought with my own hard-earned cash was the original Xbox one: that’s the first one, not the One one. I bought it at a midnight launch at my local games store and fell in love with Halo: Combat Evolved. To this day, the original Halo is one of my all-time favourite games, and it showed just how well shooters could work on console (that’s coming from a PC gamer’s perspective, too). In short: I’ve loved Xbox since launch day of Microsoft’s original console.

10. Super Lucky’s Tale

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  • RELEASE DATE: 07 November 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Playful Corp.
  • PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios

Not long after dissing it in my opening, Super Lucky’s Tale is the first exclusive cab off the rank. I honestly believe this was unfairly criticised by my peers, who missed the point that this is, first and foremost, a game intended for kids. As the only true exclusive to launch day and date with the Xbox One X, it also didn’t do the best job of showcasing the refreshed console’s power.

But nor was that its job. Super Lucky’s Tale exceeds at what it’s meant to be: a cutesy, family-friendly platformer, that’s easy to pick up and play. Beyond this, the newer mechanics like the option to burrow, add to the tried-and-proven platforming formula that’s been popularised by other mainstays. The hub-world approach ensures there’s always somewhere new to explore, and the stacks of collectable stuff is an attractive golden carrot for completionists. While Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t represent a renaissance for third-person platforming, it nails the staples and has enough of its own charm to be worthy of clocking.

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9. Tacoma

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  • RELEASE DATE: 02 August 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Fullbright
  • PUBLISHER: Fullbright

What the cynic calls ‘a walking simulator’ is actually more akin to the classic point-and-click adventure games of old. Tacoma, like Firewatch and Dear Esther before it, is a promising step in the right direction in terms of storytelling and characterisation. Accessibility in these games is at an all-time high, because the adventure is more scripted than dynamic, but that’s how developers like Fullbright are able to craft such engaging narratives and strongly emphasise character development.

Tacoma is no exception to this. It’s not the watershed neo-adventure game to bring non-believers into the fold, but it’s absolutely satisfying for fans of the aforementioned examples. The core gameplay mechanic – rewinding, pausing, and fast-forwarding digital ‘ghosts’ on an empty space station – plays out like an extension of the Arkham series’ detective moments, in a very good way. It builds upon this idea, too, by not keeping it confined to a specific quadrant, letting the player follow the recordings of characters around the space station to unravel the micro and meta mysteries at the heart of the story. Tacoma isn’t a long experience – as is the trend with these games – but it’s one that sticks with you.

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8. Fallout Shelter

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  • RELEASE DATE: 07 February 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Bethesda Game Studios
  • PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks

It may have made its inaugural release on iOS (and eventually made its way to Android), but Fallout Shelter finally landed on Xbox One in early 2017. There are some technical advantages to those patient enough to wait for the Xbox One release, too. First, the balancing updates helped to make for a better game with more to do and a refined experience since Fallout Shelter’s inaugural mobile release.

Second, this is a Play Anywhere title, which means you can juggle a single shelter between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. Once you wrap your head around the console controls – which, admittedly isn’t as intuitive as a touchscreen or mouse gameplay – there’s a tonne of fun to be found beneath the irradiated surface of Fallout Shelter. Best of all, it’s free. Yes, the game is supported by in-game microtransactions, but if you’re willing to play the game in daily or weekly bursts (the best way to play), there’s no need to cough up real-world bottle caps to mine the fun of this subterranean base builder.

Click to get Fallout Shelter Xbox One for free from Microsoft Store

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7. Path of Exile

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  • RELEASE DATE: 24 August 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Grinding Gear Games
  • PUBLISHER: Grinding Gear Games

Continuing with the trend of free-to-play games that were available on other platforms first, in swings Path of Exile. First-glance impressions suggest this game is a Diablo clone; in many ways it is, and unashamedly so. But that’s not a bad thing. The big benefit of Path of Exile arriving on console years after its PC release is that it received all the expanded content, including the generous content expansion that was part of The Fall of Oriath DLC. We’re talking six new Acts of content here.

You obviously have to be okay with the concept of loot grinding but, like Fallout Shelter, you really needn’t pay a cent to get dozens of hours of fun (more if you get hooked) out of Path of Exile. Just like comparing Diablo III on PC with the console versions, while inventory management suffers in the port – alas, the nature of joystick vs mouse control – the moment-to-moment action-based gameplay feels better on a controller than it does on PC.

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6. Halo Wars: Definitive Edition

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  • RELEASE DATE: 21 February 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Ensemble Studios
  • PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios

While the Halo Wars elites may have had early access to Halo Wars: Definitive Edition by pre-purchasing Halo Wars 2: Ultimate Edition, the game didn’t officially land until February 2017. Not that Definitive Editions late-2016 release should be treated in the same way as games in the Preview program, but official-launch-day purchasers were, once again, rewarded with subsequent updates.

The fact that Halo Wars in 2017 continues to be the best console RTS, edged out only by the greater depth of Halo Wars 2, goes a long way to showing how forward-thinking RTS maestros Ensemble Studios really were (RIP). That this was the Age of Empires developer’s swan song is a bittersweet pill, but to see that the core gameplay holds up, on a controller or with a mouse (if you’re playing on PC), today is a testament to Ensemble’s skill. It also helps that it’s had a requisite facelift, and all of the DLC was bundled into the package. Whether revisiting or playing for the first time, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition still impresses today.

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5. Gigantic

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  • RELEASE DATE: 20 July 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Motiga
  • PUBLISHER: Perfect World Entertainment

Microsoft’s answer to the budding hero-shooter genre, except in free-to-play form, Gigantic is one of those beneath-the-radar gems. In fairness, Gigantic is more MOBA than shooter, with its 5v5 composition and three-lane approach. But it’s oozing with charm, which starts with the visually arresting art design and continues with a cast of weird-and-wonderful characters.

The best thing is it plays at a pace that’s more shooter than MOBA, which makes it feel a lot more action-packed than grindy. One of the bigger points of difference is the shift away from protecting static bases. True to its single-word title, Gigantic, instead, asks teams to attack and destroy the enemy team’s towering guardian. The trick, naturally, is that you have to protect your guardian at the same time.

It’s a simple change to the familiar MOBA formula, but it’s a design decision that’s so much more meaningful than attacking or protecting a static structure. The fact that the game design also rewards environmental play, as well as player-versus-player showdowns, means Gigantic might just be the best ‘my first MOBA’ out there.

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4. Halo Wars 2

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  • RELEASE DATE: 17 Feb 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Creative Assembly
  • PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios

This is how you make an RTS sequel. Get one of the most renowned RTS developers out there today (Creative Assembly) and task them with pushing console real-time strategy to the next level. There’s the little changes and tweaks to the Halo Wars formula, like the ability to create groups, that elevate the experience. But, really, it’s all about sequel escalation.

Big-bad Atriox is a worthy adversary in the Halo space, and the addition of new vehicles, crisp visuals, and world-class sound design (seriously, it’s genre-defining stuff) makes for an enticing package. The campaign is must-play for Halo fans (like me) and offers a better story than the lacklustre Halo 5: Guardians. Campaign aside, the real longevity of Halo Wars 2 is found in other modes. Multiplayer offers quick bursts of competitive fun, with modes that are designed to encourage lower-skilled players to enter the online foray.

The shining star of Halo Wars 2, though, is Blitz mode, which splices a never-ending horde-style mode with a CCG. Trying out new commanders and card combinations is as fun alone as it is against other players online, and it makes for near-limitless replayability.

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3. Narcosis

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  • RELEASE DATE: 10 May 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Honor Code, Inc.
  • PUBLISHER: Honor Code, Inc.

I get the distinct impression that a lot of people looked at Narcosis and dismissed it by defining it as an underwater walking simulator. How wrong they were. Narcosis subverts the inherent safety and accessibility of the neo-adventure game by forcing you to walk through a submerged haunted house.

Like recent horror masterpiece Alien: Isolation, Narcosis embraces the idea of making the player feel incredibly out of their depth and ill-prepared to face the game world’s horrors. It feels like BioShock if it ditched the action and dug deeper into the inherent terrors of Rapture.

Instead of being a basic collection of jump scares, developer Honor Code takes a bolder (and incredibly successful) step into psychological scares, in an unnerving way that’ll make you want to avoid playing Narcosis at night. The fact that Honor Code has kept the fears incredibly primal, and therefore relatable, also means this horrific journey to the ocean’s floor resonates in often brutal ways. If you missed it, play it, but do so in your brown undies.

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2. Forza Motorsport 7

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  • RELEASE DATE: 29 September 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Turn 10
  • PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios

I knew Forza Horizon 3 would be a tough act to follow, especially after the release of its sublime Hot Wheels expansion earlier in the year, which did glorious nostalgic doughies all over my childhood memories. But Forza Motorsport 7 is too fully featured a beast to be ignored. There’s the 4K 60fps aspect on Xbox One X, for sure, that really helps mask the lack of new killer-app 4K games for the latest version of the Xbox One console.

But to say that Forza Horizon 3 is all about the spit and polish, and not about satisfying gameplay with deep racing mechanics would be doing the game a disservice. It feels like there’s always something to unlock. No matter which race you’re doing, or how many times you’ve done it before, there’s a sense of accomplishment, even if you’re not taking out pole position.

For the newbie racers, there’s a tonne of assists that can be activated to match your growing confidence as checkered-flag-hunting racers. For the purists, there’s a garage of realism. For the fanboys, well, it has Gran Turismo Sport lapped.

Click for Forza Motorsport 7 Xbox One from ozgameshop.com

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1. Cuphead

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  • RELEASE DATE: 29 September 2017
  • DEVELOPER: Studio MDHR
  • PUBLISHER: Studio MDHR

Cuphead felt like it would go one of three directions. Vapourware. Amazing. Or a game that couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Thankfully, for Xbox One owners, it was the ‘amazing’ option. It’s crazy to admit, but even as someone who’s not a fan of punishing games like the Dark Souls series, Cuphead keeps me coming back for more punishment.

Studio MDHR expertly entices both newcomers and fans of punishing gameplay alike with pitch-perfect presentation. The painstakingly hand-drawn levels ooze with charm and are brilliantly complemented by a toe-tapping jazz soundtrack. For the platforming levels, it’s all about forward momentum, as enemies continuously respawn. No place is safe.

But, really, it’s about the tiered boss battles that kick your arse in such a way that you can’t possibly let them get away with it. Even if it’s your dozenth attempt, you have to come back and best them. Sometimes that means dragging a buddy into the fray. You’d figure that’d make it easier, but you’d be wrong. Reviving a dead co-op partner involves a skill check that usually leads you into danger, instead of away for it. Risk/reward, indeed.

Purchase Cuphead for Xbox One from Microsoft Store

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