While the Xbox One has fallen behind the PlayStation 4 when it comes to lifetime sales, that doesn’t mean we can’t applaud its pristine selection of exclusive games. Microsoft and third-party publishers have handpicked a collection of must-play games only available on the Xbox One with a few titles getting a release on PC because duh, it’s Microsoft!
Whether you’re interested in competitive online multiplayer like Halo 5: Guardians, top-tier racing game like Forza Horizon 4, or a surreal indie shooter like Cuphead — there’s a game tailored to suit your specific gaming needs. Here’s our list of the best Xbox One exclusives.
Microsoft didn’t have its own Souls-like exclusive game before 2018, but Ashen is more than just an imitator of From Software’s action games. More direct storytelling and a cast of allied characters make it feel like a less immediately hostile environment than something like Bloodborne, but it still has the reaction-and-stamina-based combat that rewards patience and strategy.
One can’t discuss Ashen without mentioning its gorgeous and minimalist visual design, either. The game’s lack of tiny details on characters and environments creates a surreal, dreamlike effect, and sets it apart from the hyper-realistic tendencies the industry has adopted recently — particularly in the action genre.
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 titles, there’s even a rewind feature that makes the games far more forgiving, so younger players will still be able to enjoy them.
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
The most dangerous thing in a zombie apocalypse 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
Ori and the Blind Forest (also on PC)
Many games have emulated the open-ended exploration of Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night over the years, even earning the genre its Metroidvania name, but few have managed to do it as successfully as Ori and the Blind Forest.
With a quickly-expanding list of special abilities and several beautiful locations to explore, the sense of discovery you feel while playing can make you downright emotional, but it has nothing on the simple and tear-inducing story. On a mission to revive her adopted mother, small creature Ori faces nearly insurmountable odds, and she learns a little bit about her enemies along the way.
‘Cuphead’ (also on PC)
One of the hardest games of the generation, Cuphead tests not just only reflexes and your environmental awareness, but also your sheer willpower. Studio MDHR crafted a number of difficult platforming levels, which throw a litany of hazards and enemies in your way, but the game is infamous for its bosses. Among the most challenging we’ve ever faced, they often make Dark Souls or Nioh look easy by comparison. It’s a good thing that the game is just so pretty, though, with its animation style emulating the classic cartoons of the ‘30s to glorious effect.
Read our full Cuphead review
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
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. 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’ 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 4
The first Gears of War game created by Microsoft’s in-house studio The Coalition instead of Epic Games, Gears of War 4 builds on what made the series great, including its dark, horror-inspired campaign locations, intense set-pieces, creative and destructive weapons, and aggressive enemies.
Though it doesn’t stray too far from the formula and its story includes several longtime characters, it manages to offer just enough surprises to keep us on our toes. The competitive multiplayer is excellent, as well, with a variety of modes testing your team’s experience and reflexes as you work to outflank opponents and deliver a few nasty headshots.
Read our full Gears of War 4 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
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (also on PC)
One of the biggest games not available on either the PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds helped kick off the recent battle royale craze with its deliberate and slow-moving last-man-standing multiplayer matches. With a team of four, a pair, or in solo mode, you must travel across an enormous map filled with nearly 100 other players looking to put you in the ground, all while a force field gradually shrinks in size and threatens to kill you before another player can.
Initially launching with just a single map, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Xbox One has since been updated to include several, and the developers have continued to improve the game with updates to add more weapons, vehicles, and modes.
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, your 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, offering the base game at a low price in order to see extra songs on their own, so you can pay for as many or as few songs as you’re interested in actually dancing to. A wide variety of tunes are available, including Sia’s Chandelier and Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, making it the perfect choice for when you have a few friends visiting.
Fantasia: Music Evolved (also on Xbox 360)
Disney’s Fantasia is a whimsical and gorgeous musical adventure, and it has been reinterpreted to tremendous effect in Harmonix’ other Xbox exclusive, Fantasia: Music Evolved. Using Kinect, you do a sort of free-form dance along to hit songs – both classical and more recent – and the remixes included completely change the tunes.
It feels like a game built from the ground up for Kinect, rather than having the peripheral shoehorned into it, and it makes us sad that more games like Fantasia weren’t released during the attachment’s short lifespan.
Read our full Fantasia: Music Evolved review