Xbox One, Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox 360, turned five-years old in 2018. This year, Xbox One still lacked the sheer volume of quality exclusives that its competitors produced. However, Microsoft took steps towards improving Xbox One’s future by increasing the appeal of the console for anyone who already owns one.

So as we say goodbye to 2018, let’s look back at the type of year Xbox One had.

More Controller Options Makes Games More Accessible For All

Xbox One still has one of the better standard controller designs out there, but Microsoft’s decision to expand on what people can use to play games in 2018 is an excellent step towards appealing to players who don’t like it or can’t easily use it.

Of the major strides Microsoft made on the controller front this year, the release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller is the bigger of the two. First announced in May 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller released on September 4 for $100 USD. Although it’s nearly double the price of a standard controller, the Adaptive Controller fills a void that’s existed in gaming for far too long. There have been third-party devices before, but the Adaptive is the first official modern-day game controller for those with limited mobility. It’s pretty forward-thinking, and an important piece of game tech for the industry as a whole (the controller can be used on other platforms). Microsoft even designed the Adaptive’s packaging to be easier to open for those with mobility considerations. It’s a shame the company hasn’t taken the same steps with the boxes for the One S or One X, but at least Microsoft is moving in the right direction.

In 2018, Microsoft also added mouse and keyboard support to Xbox One. Developers still need to decide whether or not they’ll implement the control scheme in their game, but adding the option opens up new play styles that Xbox One can support in the future. Some computer role-playing games, like Divinity: Original Sin II, have been adapted to work with a standard controller on Xbox One, but those games are originally designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard and it stands to reason that they handle better that way. Both InXile Entertainment and Obsidian–recently acquired by Microsoft and responsible for computer RPGs like Wasteland 2 and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II respectfully–are sure to take advantage of the new control scheme in upcoming titles.

If anything, this announcement hopefully paves the way for more developers to consider porting their PC-exclusive games to Xbox One. Despite how powerful the One X is–it could theoretically play certain PC titles the original Xbox One can not–it still has the same game library as its predecessors. Giving the One X an extended library of games that include PC titles might motivate some more players to upgrade to Microsoft’s more powerful console.

Some Good Exclusives, But Not Enough To Compete

The divide in quality exclusives between Microsoft and its two main competitors, Sony and Nintendo, is a bit smaller this year than it was in 2017. But that’s mostly because both Sony and Nintendo had fewer exclusive games this year. In terms of quality, Microsoft still feels like it’s pulling up the rear.

It would have been difficult for Sony to match the number of quality exclusives that launched on the PS4 last year, but 2018 still saw a few Game of the Year contenders like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Nintendo had some strong exclusives in 2018 too, such as Octopath Traveler and Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu / Let’s Go Eevee, not to mention what looks like a very promising game in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Meanwhile, Microsoft went another year without a new Halo or Gears of War, and Crackdown 3 was delayed again. Halo Infinite and Gears 5 were at least announced at E3 2018, but we don’t even have scheduled release dates for them yet.

2018 saw the release of Forza Horizon 4, as well as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds leaving Early Access–both of which are pretty good games. However, Xbox One’s other big 2018 exclusives, State of Decay 2 and Sea of Thieves, were not as well received, and PUBG has been overshadowed by the far more popular Fortnite and Black Ops 4 Blackout mode. Xbox One did have some good-looking console exclusive indie titles lined up this year, but for whatever reason Microsoft did little to market or push many of them. Games like Pit People could have done more for Microsoft’s console with additional marketing, and titles scheduled for 2018 that still haven’t come out and are probably being delayed to 2019–such as The Last Night–are an unfortunate loss.

True, in 2018 Microsoft did manage to secure ports of some of Sony’s 2017 exclusives, like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in March and Nier: Automata in June. Getting more first-party titles would have been better than playing catch-up, but at least securing these games is a major plus.

Games As A Service Is Finally Worth It

Microsoft started its Game With Gold program back with the Xbox 360, first supported EA Access in 2014, and implemented Game Pass last year. 2018 saw dozens of quality games offered through all three programs, allowing people to play new titles for a fraction of the retail price. For the first time, Microsoft’s promised dream of a Netflix-style library of games seems both practical and desirable.

Although Games With Gold had a weak start in 2018, it ended Q1 with Crazy Taxi and Superhot and then went on to offer quality games like The Witness, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Forza Horizon 2, Overcooked, Battlefield 1, Dead Space 2, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, and Dragon Age II. Including For Honor as a Games With Gold in August–a few months after Ubisoft announced its Marching Fire DLC and one month before the expansion actually released–was an especially nice touch.

Xbox One is still the only console to support EA Access, which lets people play whatever they want from a collection of 50 plus games after paying a subscription fee. Subscribing also gets you 10 percent off all digital purchases for EA games on Xbox One and early access to certain new titles. This year, that includes games like Madden NFL 19 and Battlefield V. Next year, EA Access members get early looks at titles like Anthem and Sea of Solitude. Respawn’s Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and third Titanfall game will probably have early access through the subscription too.

Xbox Game Pass was the true star, though, as Microsoft announced in January 2018 that the service would now include all first-party titles on the day the games launched. So not only were older Xbox One console exclusives added to the service, like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but new 2018 games like Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4 all launched on Game Pass on day one. When Crackdown 3, Halo Infinite, Gears 5, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps launch, it will be the same thing. Plenty of excellent third-party games from 2016 through 2018 joined Game Pass as well, such as Laser League, OnRush, Fallout 4, and Doom, with more titles like Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice scheduled to be added this December.

Smart Acquisitions Could Spell A Promising Future

Disappointingly, Microsoft spent most of its E3 2018 presentation showcasing games that wouldn’t release until 2019 or later. However, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that the company had acquired four game studios and established another. Later in the year, Microsoft followed up with an announcement that the studio had acquired both InXile Entertainment and Obsidian as well. That’s seven more studios developing games for Xbox One.

The four acquired studios that Microsoft announced at E3 2018 are Undead Labs, Playground Games, Compulsion Games, and Ninja Theory, which are responsible for this year’s State of Decay 2, Forza Horizon 4, We Happy Few, and the Xbox version of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, respectively. The fifth studio, The Initiative, is established by Microsoft and based out of Santa Monica. It’s led by Darrell Gallagher, who’s best known for heading up 2013’s Tomb Raider and working in the past for Rockstar, Sony, and THQ. As stated before, InXile develops the Wasteland series, but it also created Torment: Tides of Numenera and The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep. Obsidian is responsible for plenty of solid RPGs, but its most well-known titles are Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords, South Part: The Stick of Truth, and Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.

That’s a lot of new talent working for Microsoft. It doesn’t do much for this year, but it does mean we can probably expect more first-party titles at the end of the Xbox One’s lifespan and on whatever console Microsoft has planned next. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if these studio acquisitions translate into good exclusives for Xbox One until we see what games are being developed, but given some of these companies’ track records–especially Playground, Team Ninja, and Obsidian–it inspires a hopeful future.

Other Matters, In Brief

  • As more studios begin honing in on player’s nostalgia, Xbox One is still the best when it comes to playing older games. Xbox One features an ever-growing list of backwards compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games–some of which are freely offered through Games With Gold, EA Access, and Game Pass. This allows you to play older titles if you still have the disc or by downloading them. Some classics, such as Final Fantasy XIII, are even Xbox One X-enhanced so their more noticeable flaws are patched away for a superior gaming experience.
  • Rather than improve the Xbox One UI–which the console desperately needs–Microsoft’s October 2018 patch implemented updates that added new Avatar customization options as well as Cortana and Alexa voice support. Neither changes how confusing it is to navigate through the Xbox One dashboard, with the latter only making things slower since you have to speak specific phrases instead of press buttons.
  • In 2018, Microsoft has seemingly left behind its consoles’ 500GB standard and instead switched to mostly selling Xbox One S and One X with 1TB hard drives. With game sizes getting larger–and X-enhanced assets being a mandatory download on Xbox One regardless if you have a One X to utilize them–this is a welcome change.

Verdict

Everything Microsoft did for Xbox One in 2018 is all well and good if you already own one of the consoles, but it might not have been enough to convince people to go out and buy a new Xbox this year. The Adaptive Controller opens up gaming to a new audience, but since it works with other systems, you don’t need to buy an Xbox One to take advantage of its unique design. Despite how good Xbox Game Pass has been in 2018, the heavy hitters–the console exclusives for Microsoft’s major IPs–are primarily scheduled for 2019 or beyond. And, as stated before, the studio acquisitions mostly set a stage for future releases that could be years away.

Microsoft spent most of 2018 looking forward. That’s great, as it could mean Xbox One has a chance to have a really good 2019 or 2020. But as it stands, 2018 was mostly a repeat of 2017. Microsoft doubled down on its attempts to improve its relationship with its existing player base–and it succeeded–but players were faced with another year where Xbox One doesn’t have many exciting exclusives to point to.

The Good The Bad
  • Microsoft continues to struggle with delivering more than one or two exciting triple-A console exclusives a year on Xbox One
  • Between Game Pass, EA Access, and Games With Gold, there are hundreds of quality titles to play on Xbox One for a fraction of their retail price
  • Xbox One UI is still a mess
  • Releasing the Adaptive Controller and implementing mouse and keyboard support are welcome additions to playing on Xbox One
  • Xbox One is still the only current generation console doing backwards compatibility, offering the best way to play games from the last two console generations



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