Nearing the end of the console generation, the Xbox One and PS4 have truly battled it out. Although the Xbox One X is substantially more powerful than the PS4 Pro, Microsoft’s offering this console generation has fallen by the wayside. Still, there are countless excellent exclusives on the platform, and with how cheap Xbox Ones are at the moment, now is a great time to play some of the best Xbox One games.
In recent years, though, Microsoft has taken a different approach with Xbox One exclusives. Ori and the Will of the Wisps, for example, was published by Microsoft Game Studios, but it’s also available on Switch. Although we’re ignoring timed exclusives like Cuphead, there are a few entries that have become cross-platform games, in particular, since launch. Still, they’re Xbox One exclusives at their core.
Sunset Overdrive (also on PC)
Insomniac Games has been mostly associated with the PlayStation family because of games like Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man, but the studio was at its absolute best when it created Sunset Overdrive. Set in the titular Sunset City during an apocalypse brought on by tainted energy drinks, it’s up to you to defeat the grotesque mutants roaming the streets, all while grinding and bounding between buildings like you’re a professional skateboarder without a skateboard.
Sunset Overdrive is bright, colorful, and often hilarious, poking fun at established video game tropes and never taking itself remotely seriously. Given the number of dark and gritty games released this general, it’s more than welcome.
Read our full Sunset Overdrive review
Quantum Break (also on PC)
One of the most experimental games released for Xbox One, Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break takes the developer’s famed third-person shooting expertise and puts a science-fiction twist on it. Following a failed experiment that resulted in multiple researchers gaining time travel abilities, it’s a race against the ever-shifting clock in order to protect the world from the ambitions of an unhinged villain.
Along with your wits, you’re given a gun and the ability to momentarily manipulate time, resulting in some very effective powers during shootouts. In between these sections, the game makes use of live-action scenes to give more insight into the story, with acclaimed actors like Lance Reddick, Aiden Gillen, and Shawn Ashmore.
Read our full Quantum Break review
One of the most prolific game developers to ever come from the United Kingdom, Rare has been putting out quirky, entertaining, and unique games for decades. Some of its greatest titles were bundled together in the Rare Replay, a compilation that begins with games from the early ‘80s right up to the Xbox 360.
These include classic beat-‘em-ups like Battletoads, cult fighter Killer Instinct, and the whimsical Viva Piñata, all fully playable on Xbox One. With older arcade and NES games, there’s even a rewind feature that makes the games far more forgiving, so younger players will still be able to enjoy them.
Deep Rock Galactic (also on PC)
Deep Rock Galactic hasn’t gotten nearly the love it deserves. After two years in early access, the game officially launched on Steam and Xbox One just weeks ago. It’s not a Microsoft published game, rather published by Goat Simulator publisher Coffee Stain Studios, but it is an Xbox Play Anywhere title and it’s not available on PS4 or Nintendo Switch.
As for the game itself, it’s a one- to four-player co-op shooter where you play as one of four classes of “badass space Dwarves.” In addition to some crazy weapons, your character has access to a range of gadgets as you explore the dense procedurally generated cave network. By yourself, Deep Rock Galactic is a blast. With friends, there’s nothing quite like it on Xbox One. Plus, it supports crossplay between the Xbox One version and Microsoft Store version (though sadly not the Steam version).
Sea of Thieves (also on PC)
Sea of Thieves is the quintessential Rare game, featuring plenty of the developer’s lighthearted humor with a gorgeous and cartoony art style. Loosely structured and largely player-driven, Sea of Thieves tasks you with becoming the ultimate pirate as you explore its enormous open world, always with the threat of other players looming over you.
To defend yourself, you can bring a few friends on board your ship, and since the game supports cross-play with PC users, you won’t have a problem finding someone willing to lend a hand. Of course, this won’t always stop you from seeing your treasure stolen and your ship sunk.
Read our full Sea of Thieves review
State of Decay 2 (also on PC)
The most dangerous thing in a zombie game isn’t always the zombies — it can also be your dwindling supply of food, disease, or infighting … but the zombies don’t help matters. In State of Decay 2, you must transform a group of inexperienced survivors into a stable community capable of sustaining and defending itself against zombie attacks, all while you venture out into the largely overrun surrounding areas in search of information on a cure for the plague. Part action and part strategy, your group’s supply levels are almost always your prime concern, but they decrease at a slow enough pace to avoid making State of Decay 2 feel too stressful.
Read our full State of Decay 2 review
Grounded (also on PC)
Obsidian is the first studio to tackle the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids concept in a video game. Currently a part of Xbox Game Preview, Grounded is a co-op game where you play as a kid the size of an ant. Like other survival games, it’s all about resource management in Grounded. Gather your required materials, craft what you need, and book it back to your base. Surviving on the ground is no easy feat.
Currently, Grounded is just about the basics. The fun comes when you team up with friends. Although the beginnings of a campaign are present, Grounded is, in its current state, a persistent survival game and nothing more. Still, that’s enough to get started, and with new biomes, insects, and crafting recipes on the way, Obsidian has enough in the pipeline to keep players hooked for a while.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (also on PC)
Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful game. This Metroidvania took the world by storm thanks to its beautiful art style, offering a huge boon to Microsoft’s first-party lineup. Now, we have a sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Although both games are excellent, Will of the Wisps is superior in almost every way, featuring a larger world, expanded combat, and for the first time in the series, boss battles.
The same lovingly crafted world is still intact, with Moon Studios, the developer of the first game, at the helm. Will of the Wisps picks up immediately after the events of the first game, with the comforting voice of the Spirit Tree guiding your path. “Masterpiece” is a word thrown around a lot when talking about the Ori games, and rightfully so.
Read our Ori and the Will of the Wisps preview
Sports and racing
#IDARB (also on PC)
It’s hard to describe #IDARB to someone without actually showing them the game in action, and even at that point, you still might not be sure what you’re looking at. What began as a simple drawing (the name means I Drew a Red Box), it quickly turned into a crowd-influenced action-sports game that mixes elements of basketball with over-the-top power-ups that can completely change the rules at a moment’s notice. It’s also the only game that lets you enter the infamous Lang Zone. Best played with a friend by your side to slap whenever they win, #IDARB is weird, nonsensical, and a whole lot of fun.
Forza Horizon 4 (also on PC)
Playground Games has proven itself as one of the best racing game developers on the planet, and the studio has outdone itself with Forza Horizon 4. Taking the action to Britain this time around, Forza Horizon 4 is packed full of racing challenges and open-world fun to partake in, and running on an Xbox One X at 4K or 60 frames per second, it’s an absolutely stunning display of power.
A new seasons system changes the environments, as well, freezing over lakes or turning easy roads into muddy deathtraps, and with real players always racing around you in the world, you’re just a few moments away from a race at any time.
Read our full Forza Horizon 4 review
Forza Motorsport 7 (also on PC)
For the most dedicated gearheads on Xbox One, you’ll want to choose Forza Motorsport 7, a love letter really fast cars from Turn 10. The game contains more than 700 drivable cars, as well as 30 separate locations to speed around as you attempt to beat your friends’ Drivatars to the finish line.
Unlike the games in the Horizon series, Forza Motorsport 7 hits 60 frames per second on Xbox One X, all while maintaining a 4K HDR resolution. If you drool whenever you see a supercar speeding across a track or bask in the reflection of its paint, there is no better place to do it than Forza Motorsport 7.
Read our full Forza Motorsport 7 review
Killer Instinct (also on PC)
Rare’s Killer Instinct fighting series had been dormant for years before the launch of the Xbox One in 2013, but the studio revived it to tremendous success. The fast-paced and difficult-to-master fighter includes all of the best characters from the franchise’s history, including Cinder, Jago, Glacius, and Sabrewulf, alongside Microsoft favorites like the Arbiter and General RAAM.
Killer Instinct offers a fantastic training system to show newcomers the ropes, and the game’s free-to-play structure lets you jump in and start fighting without spending a dime. If you do plan on spending money, the characters are available in separate season packs, so you can choose the ones you want the most.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (also on PC)
The original three Halo games are among the best first-person shooters of all time, delivering an exhilarating and emotional story that slams on the gas and never holds up. Halo 4 ushered in a new age for the series as developer 343 Industries took over and delivered its own successful vision, set against an entirely new kind of enemy.
For those who haven’t played these games before, Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundles them all together with visual enhancements, including a complete overhaul of Halo 2 and Halo 3. All of the games’ multiplayer maps are available, as well, so you can reminisce about the joy of hours-long Blood Gulch matches with your friends, eating pizza and chugging soda the whole time.
Read our full Halo: The Master Chief Collection review
Halo 5: Guardians
343 Industries further shook up the Halo formula with 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians, a game that turned one of the series’s most beloved characters into a villain while splitting the perspective between longtime hero Master Chief and newcomer Spartan Locke. The campaign sets the stage for nearly endless possibilities in the upcoming Halo Infinite, but it’s the multiplayer mode that really shines in Halo 5.
For the first time, players can use an aim-down-sight ability to better locate their shots with several different weapons, and new powerful special moves allow you to quickly change the momentum in a close match. The large-scale Warzone mode — which sees Spartans battling alongside vehicles in player-versus-player and player-versus-environment scenarios — is just a bonus.
Gears of War 5 (also on PC)
Gears 5 is a massive improvement over Gears of War 4, showing The Coalition is more than fit to fill the shoes left by Epic Games. Ditching the Fenix-focused stories we’ve seen in all previous numbered entries, the game’s campaign instead focuses on Kait Diaz and her mysterious connection to the Swarm enemy that threatens to destroy Sera. It dives into heavier topics than we expected, and to great effect.
But it isn’t only the story that has been improved. The expansion of abilities for robotic buddy Jack makes combat even more strategic and engaging, and there are three different ways to play cooperatively with your friends. Horde and the campaign both support it, as well as the new Escape mode, which is perfect for speedrunners.
Read our full Gears 5 review
Titanfall (also on 360, PC)
The original Titanfall manages to blend the perfect first-person shooting mechanics of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games with powerful mech vehicles to create a multiplayer experience so engaging and addictive, it’s easy to sit down and blast away at other players for hours at a time. Multiplayer maps are built for verticality, allowing the human pilots to run alongside them in order to get the drop on the titular Titans.
When your Titan falls from the sky and you take aim at other players with powerful cannons, however, you feel unstoppable, and you can even punch them out of the air to really let them know who’s boss. A sequel, Titanfall 2, is also available on Xbox One and includes an excellent campaign mode alongside the multiplayer.
Read our full Titanfall review
Halo Wars 2 (also on PC)
The first Halo Wars proved that a console could handle a real-time strategy game if given the proper care and attention, and Halo Wars 2 continues its story with connections to the mainline games that help to make it feel like essential. Armed with your wits, marines, and highly advanced vehicles, you must battle against a rogue Brute and his followers, most of whom are capable of annihilating you immediately if you make a few wrong moves.
Though the control scheme still feels limited compared to what’s offered on a traditional mouse-and-keyboard setup, Halo Wars 2 is a thrilling, cerebral strategy game, and its cinematic cutscenes are among the best we’ve seen in the Halo series to date.
Read our full Halo Wars 2 review
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die (also on PC)
There are weird games, and then there’s D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. The mystery story surrounding a detective investigating his wife’s murder might seem cliché and overdone at first glance, but give creator Swery65 a few more minutes to show you its bizarre core.
Largely taking place on board an airplane, this game is utterly fascinating. The player’s interactions with other characters are among the strangest and most entertaining we’ve ever seen in any media, and D4’s mini-games and Kinect integration make it an experience unlike anything else on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, the game was never finished – but you owe it to yourself to jump in and see what’s possible when an auteur is given free rein to do whatever he wants.
Dance Central Spotlight
Kinect on Xbox One was largely a failure — you can’t even find the peripheral anymore, as it has been discontinued — but Harmonix’ Dance Central Spotlight is an exception. The kings of dancing games created a highly personalized version of the series for Xbox One. Essentially, they offered the base game at a low price, with the option to pay for as many or as few songs as you’re interested in actually dancing to. Instead of skipping over every boring pick in the pre-loaded library, you get to select your own sampling of songs. A wide variety of tunes are available, including Sia’s “Chandelier” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” making this game the perfect choice for when you have friends over.
Fantasia: Music Evolved (also on Xbox 360)
Harmonix’s additional Xbox exclusive, Fantasia: Music Evolved is every bit as enchanting as the charming visual-musical journey that Disney’s Fantasia originally took audiences on. Kinect facilitates a dance party to hit songs through the ages, and tunes get updated using the remixes.
Unlike many Kinect games, this title feels like it was built from scratch for the Kinect peripheral. It’s just a shame that so many similar games emerged from the attachment’s brief lifespan. It’s hard to enjoy Xbox One’s distinct gaming options due to the Kinect’s rarity.
You don’t need a Kinect to play a fun game on the platform, though. All of these exclusives are worth looking into, even if some of them weren’t hits.
Read our full Fantasia: Music Evolved review