As usual the Xbox One doesn’t quite have the deep well of great exclusives this year that can be found on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. It does have one crucial thing in its favor though: it’s the only place outside of a PC to currently play the best game of the year. The Outer Wilds is a smart, challenging, sad game with an equal serving of emotional and intellectual heft, and if you own an Xbox One it’s an absolute must-play. Elsewhere on this list, though, you’ll find a number of games that are playable on other consoles, including at least one that’s available on both the PlayStation 4 and Switch. That doesn’t mean anything if you only own an Xbox One—it’s not like Sekiro or Metro Exodus becomes worse just because you can also play ‘em on Sony’s machine. And Microsoft’s open embrace of backwards compatibility means you can play any number of excellent Xbox 360 games if you still have those discs lying around. So there’s no shortage of new or old games to play on this system, even if very few of them are genuinely exclusive.
Let’s take a look at the new games from 2019 that you have to play if you’re an Xbox One owner.
Far Cry New Dawn is like Far Cry Primal in that it takes a lot of existing Far Cry assets and reconfigures them in a way that I find impressive. Game development is an expensive business, and creatively repackaging Hope County with a fresh coat of post-apocalyptic paint is, from a practical perspective, a stroke of brilliance. I like the feeling of returning to familiar places post-disaster (it’s one of the many reasons I love the Fallout series) and this new spin, which sees the protagonist rebuilding a settlement of survivors following the apocalypse at the end of Far Cry 5, gives the developers a chance to take some liberties with the setting without threatening the series’s core basis in pseudo-reality. The results are gorgeous. The buried ruins, vibrant overgrowth and purple wildflowers that spread throughout Hope County are a welcome facelift on a familiar setting.—Holly Green
Metro Exodus gave me the same feeling that I had playing the first-person games of the early ‘00s. It is messy, full of stock situations, and doesn’t quite work in all instances, but it is also experimental and willing to be a little unpolished if it creates a situation or a series of moments that are memorable and compelling. It is a great game that had to smear itself in a layer of whatever-nothing to convince you that it belonged in a certain genre. But like the octopus pretending to be a rock, Metro Exodus is a brilliant creature in the guise of a worse one. With some time, energy, and emotional investment it springs to life.—Cameron Kunzelman
When comparisons between Kingdom Hearts and other franchises come up as a way of giving some cover to the keyblade game, I bristle. The power of Kingdom Hearts and all of its weirdness is contained in its implosive capability, its ability to be totally separated from all narrative responsibility. And as far as I can tell, that’s the greatest power in videogames.—Cameron Kunzelman
Mortal Kombat 11 goes out of its way to break down the barrier between experts and regular players. It reduces the imperceptible into easy-to-follow, step-by-step chunks that anybody can learn. Of course simply knowing how to count frame data doesn’t mean most players will be able to do it that effectively with any regularity. Also, it’s entirely possible that new meta techniques will be discovered by the fighting game community as they continue to look for advantages, once again leaving most players out of the loop. And perhaps NetherRealm intentionally baked new meta tactics into Mortal Kombat 11, knowing that the most dedicated players would quickly find them and pass them around clandestinely like they once did these other techniques.
For now, though, Mortal Kombat 11 blows up so much of the mystery around fighting games. I’ve been playing Mortal Kombat games for almost 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve really played one the way fighting games are meant to be played these days.—Garrett Martin
Apex Legends burst out of the gate with a ferocity that the battle royale genre hasn’t seen in a long time. This wasn’t the pioneering-but-clunky first attempts at the genre like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, nor was it the slow-but-unceasing dominance of Fortnite: Battle Royale, Apex is something different. Apex Legends feels like a game from ten years in the future, where our understandings of the battle royale genre have moved beyond the petty bugs and design foibles of today.
Instead, Apex Legends oozes polish. It’s fast, it’s relatively bug-free, it looks and sounds incredible, it has a game-changingly good contextual communication system, and perhaps most interestingly it’s managed to graft a character-focused roster onto a battle royale design more elegantly and effectively than its closest genre competitor in Call Of Duty’s Blackout mode or representation-discourse-regular Overwatch.—Dante Douglas
The unwinnable-for-plot-reasons boss fights aside, Devil May Cry 5 never wants the player to feel any less than like they’re the coolest person on earth. While the game isn’t overly easy, health and upgrades are plentiful, every character has multiple options to handle any situation thrown at them, and the checkpointing system is gracious. Before every boss fight you are given a chance to upgrade and heal back up. In boss fights, if you go down you can use basic red orbs or special gold orbs to get right back into the fight. And this game is constantly tripping over itself to give you all the orbs you’ll ever need. Devil May Cry wants you to be the ultimate badass, and it’s going to give you every opportunity and tool it can.—Dia Lacina
“Fun” is a nebulous, subjective concept that many critics try to avoid, but there’s not a better word that sums up why Sekiro’s repetition never becomes a problem. Sekiro’s tightrope combat—a delicate balance of patience, timing and precision that can swing from stately to furious in an instant—is so physically and intellectually satisfying, and such a consistently evolving challenge, that it never grows old. It retains the same kernel of sheer, unabashed fun that you feel from the first time you get a handle of its defense-oriented, posture-disrupting action, but slowly tweaks it through the steady introduction of new skills and techniques.—Garrett Martin
Sea of Solitude is about trauma. The sticky, mud-like kind that cakes and cracks and stings because of the thousands of cuts and abrasions we’ve accumulated. The kind that builds up while we push it down and ignore the blood seeping from our knees and elbows as we try to carry on—distracting ourselves from how it crusts on us like barnacles, loading us down until we no longer recognize ourselves or our loved ones.
Kay—ashen, red-eyed, and monstrous—is our protagonist. She has about as many answers as we do. What we learn, she learns. Answers are given and taken away, and then recapitulate and recontextualize themselves. In this way, it mimics my own experience with trauma and recovery. This is a game about mental illness, even if it eludes that distinction. As grounded as it is, Kay’s journey is far more interested in a grounded metaphorization than clinical realities.—DIa Lacnia
This subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin
It’d be easy to make Outer Wilds sound like a mash-up of familiar influences. It’s built around a recurring time loop like Majora’s Mask; you’ll fly from planet to planet in real time in search of ancient secrets, as in No Man’s Sky; you’ll explore a variety of eldritch mysteries baked into this solar system, not unlike a new-fangled Myst. Those ideas are implemented in such a unique and seamless way, though, that the total package feels unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It focuses on a race of gentle spacefarers who build rockets out of wood in order to map the other planets that circle their sun and dig up answers on ancient settlers who left wisdom spread throughout the galaxy. The developers have clearly thought long and hard about the alien universe they’ve created, from the specific nature of its physical laws, to the culture of the creatures who populate it. The result is a game that feels appropriately alien, strengthening our desire to unlock its mysteries and explore its culture.—Garrett Martin