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The best Xbox Series X exclusives

Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X is a powerhouse, oftentimes matching or outperforming the PlayStation 5 in multi-platform releases. But how are the exclusives? The Xbox Series X has a thin lineup at launch, but with our guide to the best Xbox Series X exclusives, you’ll know which games to download.

Technically, the Xbox Series X doesn’t have any exclusives right now, and with Microsoft’s Smart Delivery feature, it won’t for at least a couple of years. So, we had to make some concessions. We’re defining Xbox Series X exclusives as games that aren’t available on the PS5. Yakuza: Like a Dragon, for example, is available on PS4, but the next-gen version is exclusive to the Series X and Series S right now.

Similarly, we only included Xbox One games if they’ve been optimized for Series X and S (like Gears 5). Also, we’re ignoring PC entirely. If you factor in PC releases, Microsoft hasn’t had a console exclusive game in years.

Further reading

Gears 5

Gears 5 is basically an Xbox Series X launch game, despite releasing on Xbox One in 2019. Existing owners can download the Series X patch for free, which boosts the visuals and performance of the game past its last-gen counterpart. For performance, the game is basically locked at 60 frames per second during the campaign, jumping as high as native 4K in the resolution department during calm scenes. When the action heats up, Gears 5 can still drop its resolution to 1080p, though these dips are infrequent, much unlike the Xbox One X version.

Based on performance and resolution, the Series X and One X versions are similar, though the Series X locks to 60 fps whereas the One X experienced frequent dips. It’s the details that make the difference, however. Variable-rate shading, screen-space global illumination, and improvements in shadows and lighting make the game look much better overall, and combined with the Series X’s ultra-fast SSD, feel like a next-gen experience.

As for Gears 5 as a game, it’s great. The campaign is a little less bombastic than previous titles, with frequent breaks from the action to explore and experience the story, and multiplayer is better than ever. The Series X supports 120Hz during multiplayer in Gears 5, and like the campaign, the game locks there on Microsoft’s flagship console.

Read our Gears 5 review

Sea of Thieves

Although criticized upon launch for a lack of content, Sea of Thieves has still become one of Microsoft’s largest exclusives, and it’ll likely stay that way throughout the Series X’s life. Unlike Destiny 2 and similar games-as-a-service titles, Sea of Thieves isn’t concerned with guiding players down one particular path. Instead, Sea of Thieves is a fluid experience. You can throw up a quest on your ship’s map to find new loot, engage in naval battles, or spend some time far out on the high seas, landing on a random island in a distant land.

It’s that freedom that makes Sea of Thieves such a compelling experience, offering just enough content to quality as a “game” while never forcing players to actually undertake that content. Freedom is Sea of Thieves’ biggest strength, but it’s the game’s biggest weakness, too. A group of seafaring friends is essential in Sea of Thieves, so if you fancy yourself a solo player, it’s best to choose one of the other Series X exclusives on this list.

Read our Sea of Thieves review

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon isn’t a typical Yakuza game, and it didn’t have a typical release, either. The game released exclusively in Japan on PS4 in early 2020, before heading to the West on PC, PS4, and Xbox Series X on November 10. The PS5 version — which features the same enhancements as the Series X version, including a native 4K mode and a 60 frames per second option — is releasing in 2021. For the next few months, at least, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an Xbox Series X exclusive.

And right now, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a big reason to buy a Series X. In a break from tradition, Like a Dragon isn’t a brawler, but rather a turn-based RPG. It borrows liberally from Persona, too, with social links and stats that you can level up as the game progresses.

Matching the new gameplay systems, Like a Dragon comes with a new protagonist: Ichiban Kasuga. Like a Dragon follows Ichiban after an 18-year stint in prison, who, after some unfortunate encounters with previous acquaintances, finds himself in a homeless community among Koichi Adachi and Yu Nanba (two of the six party members you’ll pick up in Like a Dragon).

From there, Like a Dragon breaks into the absurd in true Yakuza fashion. From a side quest tracking down a public urinator to a massage wand you can wield in combat, Like a Dragon certainly isn’t scared of making fun of itself. The absurdity is balanced against a lot of heart, though, and after a few hours with Ichiban and the crew, you’ll care more about their adventure than the insane circumstances that surround it.

Tetris Effect: Connected

Although Halo Infinite couldn’t shape up in time for launch, the Xbox Series X got a piece of pure next-gen eye candy in the form of Tetris Effect: Connected (and a significant addition to the Game Pass roster). Tetris Effect originally released exclusively on the PS4 in 2018, but Connected is more than just a rebrand. In addition to a cooperative multiplayer mode — hence the “Connected” tag — the game comes with a competitive mode that strips some of the particle effects and other visual features while enforcing stricter rules, in line with the Classic Tetris World Championship.

Tetris Effect: Connected is more of an experience than a game, but that’s not to sound grandiose. For the most part, the game you play in Tetris Effect is the same game as regular TetrisThe experience is amplified, however, with various moods and locales, each with their own visual and auditory identity. When you clear lines, they explode into particles on screen, matching with the color and theme of whatever mood or location you’re playing.

The game only has one major diversion from the standard Tetris formula, and that’s the Zone meter. As you clear lines, you’ll build up your Zone meter, which you can trigger to pause time. While paused, you can continue sliding Tetriminos in place, building up lines that will clear once your Zone runs out. This allows skilled players to move past the titular four-line clear and clear up to 20 lines at once.

Bright Memory: Episode 1

Bright Memory is an ambitious game, combing elements of agile shooters like Titanfall 2 with brawling mechanics reminiscent of Devil May Cry 5. Even more impressive, Episode 1 was developed by a single person. Despite a short runtime and some shoddy translation, Bright Memory was enough to grab Microsoft’s attention, who’s funding a full-length version of the game — Bright Memory: Infinite — coming exclusively to Xbox Series X and S in 2021.

For now, we just have Bright Memory: Episode 1. The title is more of a demo than a game, with most players able to get through all of the content in about an hour. For $8, though, it’s hard to complain. If nothing else, Bright Memory is a showcase of some excellent action design, and with gorgeous graphics to boot.

Gears Tactics

One of the major Xbox Game Studios releases of 2020, Gears Tactics didn’t actually launch on an Xbox console, reserved exclusively for PC for the first few months of its life. With the launch of Xbox Series X, Gears Tactics is now a console game, and a good one at that. As XCOM 2 showed, turn-based tactics are possible on consoles, but Gears Tactics goes further. It keeps tactics mechanics like an overwatch ability and restricted movement but amplifies the action in a number of ways.

Small changes, like enemies spawning on all sides of you and the ability to issue commands while another unit is carrying out a command, make Gears Tactics a more brisk experience than other tactics games. Outside of combat, you can spend caches you find on the battlefield to unlock new equipment to outfit your troops, as well as spend skill points to make them stronger.

What’s remarkable about Gears Tactics is that the game never feels like it’s trying to be something it’s not. Even with the camera zoomed out and the flow of action regulated to turns, Gears Tactics feels undeniably Gears of War. It runs beautifully on Series X, too, at a flawless 4K60, and with excellent controller support.

Read our Gears Tactics review

Forza Horizon 4

Until Forza Motorsport 8 launches on Series X, racing fans will have to settle for Forza Horizon 4. That’s hardly settling, though. Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best racing games there is, not just on Xbox. The Series X enhanced version runs excellently, too. You’re getting a locked 60 fps during events and when driving around the open-world, as well as vastly improved load times compared to the Xbox One version.

It’s not quite the seismic shift in visual fidelity as Gears 5, but Forza Horizon 4 is still a next-gen showcase (and an impressive showcase, considering the game is a few years old at this point). Hopefully, we’ll see a true next-gen racer on Series X in 2021. For now, Forza Horizon 4 is the best Microsoft’s console has to offer. Although Xbox One players won’t find a lot of improvements on Series X outside of resolution and frame rate, Forza Horizon 4 remains an essential game for players who haven’t jumped into the driver’s seat yet.

Read our Forza Horizon 4 review

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Even among Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4, Ori and the Will of the Wisps may be the best showcase of the Xbox Series X’s power. On Xbox One X, Ori and the Will of the Wisps ran at 4K60, though not without problems. The experienced frequent frame drops below its target on Microsoft’s last-gen hardware, though stayed impressive in the resolution department. The Xbox Series X solves all of those issues. 4K is still the target resolution, though now with a locked 120 fps. The game even includes supersampling to run at 6K at 60 FPS.

Simply put, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a visual treat, especially with HDR enabled. It’s a great game on its own, too. Moon Studios matches the somber, dream-like atmosphere of the original game while adding plenty of new content (including boss battles). Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the best Metroidvania games around, and although it’s technically available on Nintendo Switch, the game feels most at home on Series X.

Read our Ori and the Will of the Wisps preview

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