This article was originally published on May 1, 2019 and shared again for Christmas 2019.
Exclusives console games are the driving force behind hardware sales, so it’s no surprise that Xbox One has seen a regular stream of original content during its lifespan.
The Xbox One is in an interesting situation in that Microsoft makes most of its first-party games playable on Windows 10 as well, meaning it has very few genuine ‘exclusives’ in the true sense of the word: even if you don’t have an Xbox One you’d miss out on very few of these games if you have a decent gaming PC.
However, if you want the console experience and you only own a PS4 or Switch, then (at the time of writing) you’re going to have to stride into Microsoft’s kingdom armed with your wallet. Luckily, many of the best Xbox exclusive games are available via Game Pass…
Arguablyt the best open-world racing game ever made, Forza Horizon 4 lets you race an obscenely large number of cars throughout Britain.
It’s not all of Britain, mind you, but a sort of ‘Best of Britain’ map that takes the likes of Edinburgh, the Cotswolds and the Lake District and brings them much closer together.
The result is one of the most fantastic racing experiences you’ll ever play: there’s nothing quite like bombing it through Edinburgh’s Princes Street, speeding out into the countryside, ploughing through a fence and driving through a bunch of hilly fields all without any loading times.
This is about as essential as it gets for racing fans.
If you’re a more serious petrolhead and the idea of battering into hedges in a Ferrari fills you with disgust, the main Forza series may be more to your tastes.
With more than 30 tracks based on real-life circuits, over 700 cars to choose from and some of the best handling you’ll find in a racing game, those who take their racing a little more seriously will be delighted with what’s on offer here.
The fact it looks incredible doesn’t hurt, either. Running at a rock solid 60 frames per second at native 1080p on a standard Xbox One and full 4K on an Xbox One X, Forza 7 has the style to back up the substance.
Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition
The Gears Of War series may not be the show-stopping spectacle it was back when the original games launched on Xbox 360, but this remaster of the first title is a much-welcomed return to those days.
More than just a simple upscaled update, this is essentially a complete recreation of the original game with Xbox One hardware in mind, meaning it could easily pass for any other modern day title.
What’s more, it also includes the five extra campaign chapters that were previously exclusive to the PC version, meaning those who only played the original on Xbox 360 will still have some entirely new content to play through.
Speaking of Xbox’s glory days, no series is associated quite so strongly with Microsoft’s consoles as Halo. The original was a revelation, the sequel revolutionised online multiplayer, the third took the series into the HD era, and the fourth added cinematic flair.
The Master Chief Collection gathers all four games (with the spin-off game ODST available as a separate paid download) and gifts them all some visual polish.
That’s four full campaigns and every multiplayer map from each game, all in one package. It’s not an exaggeration to say this is one of the biggest compilations ever in terms of sheer content.
When Microsoft bought Rare, fans couldn’t wait to see what fantastic new games the studio was going to bring to Xbox systems. While it did indeed give us the likes of Viva Pinata, Kameo and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, it’s probably fair to say Rare’s output isn’t quite what it used to be.
Thankfully, “what it used to be” might as well be the tagline for Rare Replay, which gathers 30 games from Rare’s first 30 years as a developer and bundles them all together in a wonderfully presented compilation.
Licensed games like GoldenEye and the Donkey Kong Country titles sadly aren’t here, but there’s still a huge range of absolute classic titles covering numerous consoles including the Spectrum (Jetpac, Sabre Wulf), the NES days (RC Pro Am, Battletoads), N64 (Blast Corps, Killer Instinct Gold), original Xbox (Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Grabbed By The Ghoulies) and Xbox 360 (Viva Pinata and the remasters of Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark).
It’s a history of exceptional games spanning a number of generations, and retro fans will adore it.
You know a game’s ambitious when even the Xbox One X struggles with it. That may seem like a criticism but the fact is that Quantum Break is so visually impressive that frame stuttering (on base hardware) and minor glitching (on the X) are instantly forgiven.
It may be a few years old now but Quantum Break is still one of the best-looking games we’ve seen on any console, which is no surprise given that it comes from Alan Wake studio Remedy Entertainment.
Its story is a little cliché (as are the live-action TV show style cutscenes that play after each stage and change depending on decisions you made in the game) but its time-manipulating mechanics make for some truly impressive set-pieces.
ReCore attempts to show what would happen if Mega Man and Metroid had a third-person adventure lovechild. Waking from cryosleep to find a colonisation project gone wrong, players must roam the landscape accompanied by three robotic companions, each with their own abilities, to figure out what’s happened.
When it launched, ReCore was plagued with bugs, long loading screens and generally repetitive gameplay. Eventually, a Definitive Edition update was released which fixed a lot of the bugs, greatly reduced loading times and added a bunch of new areas to explore.
This new Definitive Edition of the game is a far better experience in every way, and elevates it to the status of one of the Xbox One’s best exclusives. Don’t worry about getting the wrong version by mistake: all the Definitive Edition content was added to the original ReCore through a free update.
Sea Of Thieves
Rare may not be the powerhouse it once was in terms of sheer output, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of the odd gem every now and then.
Sea Of Thieves is a co-op online multiplayer game set in the world of pirates and general skullduggery. Although it can be played solo, there’s really no fun in that: this is clearly a game designed to played in a group of like-minded seadogs.
When it launched, Sea Of Thieves felt a little thin on the ground: there wasn’t a lot to do and the novelty seemed likely to wear off soon. To Rare’s credit, it has continually updated the game on a near-monthly basis with new areas to explore, enemy types and items to collect and use, as well as a huge array of gameplay tweaks.
The result is that now, a little over a year after launch, there’s a lot more to see and do in this one. Better yet, since it’s an Xbox Game Pass title, you can jump in and see if it’s to your tastes, and if it isn’t you can jump out again at no great expense.
Insomniac Games may (justifiably) be getting all the praise under the sun just now for its brilliant Spider-Man game on PS4, but a few years before that it was responsible for another brilliant open-world game with its own addictive traversal system.
Playing as the employee of a fizzy drinks company whose latest product has turned the public into deadly mutants, players have to blow them all to tiny pieces while grinding rails, running up walls, using massive zip-lines and basically treating the city like one enormous parkour playground.
Its fourth wall battering storyline may be a little too on the nose for some people, but those who buy into its ‘nudge nudge’ sense of humour will find a brilliantly over-the-top action game that’s more colourful than the language at a late-night comedy club.
Ryse: Son Of Rome
This launch game developed by Crytek divided opinion, but it’s definitely developed a cult following over the years with more and more players stepping forward and admitting they really enjoyed it.
You play as Marius, a Roman general who becomes a leader of the Roman Legion on his path to avenge his murdered family. That all sounds very serious but don’t worry: it’s just an excuse to stick your sword into loads of baddies.
Despite being more than 5 years old, Ryse is still a beautiful game to look at. It was criticised at the time for its repetitive combat and its fairly short campaign length, but considering it’s now on Game Pass that lack of longevity is no longer an issue. Download it, spend a couple of nights enjoying its story and gruesome kill animations, then move on.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
Imagine if a Telltale game was developed by a slightly unhinged David Lynch and you’d be starting to approach what D4 is like.
Created by Swery65, the same bizarre mind responsible for the classic “so terrible it’s brilliant” adventure Deadly Premonition, D4 was the first in a planned series of Kinect-controlled adventures.
Thankfully, you don’t need to use Kinect for this one: it plays perfectly well with a standard controller. And play it you should, because it’s one of the strangest, most ridiculous adventures you’ll experience on any console. Just be warned: it ends on a cliffhanger that probably won’t ever be resolved.
Initially released as a free-to-play fighter with a single free character that rotated every now and then, Killer Instinct was planned to be an ever-evolving game that would grow throughout the Xbox One’s life.
Although it didn’t quite manage this, it did receive a ton of updates for about three years, with three whole ‘seasons’ worth of new characters, including cameo fighters from Battletoads, Halo and Gears Of War.
This would be meaningless if it was a rubbish game, but Killer Instinct is a solid fighter with a combo system that’s both complex enough to be interesting but also straightforward enough – with a useful tutorial – that amateurs can learn the ropes fairly easily.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Metroidvania games are ten a penny these days so it takes something special to stand out in the crowd. Ori and the Blind Forest does just that.
It’s a beautiful looking adventure in which you play as Ori, a small spirit who has to restore life to a dying, withered forest. At its core it’s nothing massively revolutionary: it’s the same basic ‘get new powers, use them to go back and access places you couldn’t before’ routine.
But it does it with such an impressive flair, such wonderful music and such perfectly tuned controls that even when it’s at its most difficult – which is pretty difficult indeed – it never feels off-putting.
If you’re a parent, chances are you already know about Roblox. The game creation platform has steadily gathered momentum since it launched back in 2006 to the extent that it now has more than 70 million active users every month.
It’s easy to see why: players are able to come up with some pretty impressive and varied games through its Roblox Studio platform. Want to explore the Titanic just before it sank? Well, that’s pretty grim but someone’s made that game already, so fill your boots.
The Xbox One version is a lot more restricted than the PC one: instead of it pretty much being open season in terms of which user-created games you can download, any games added to the Xbox One version have to have been chosen by staff and put through an approval process.
Still, this does at least mean everything you get on the Xbox One Roblox is of a high quality, with no need to wade through countless terrible half-games made by 11-year-olds.