The State Of Xbox One In 2018

Illustration: Sam Woolley

In sports they call it a rebuilding year. Xbox One has had a few of those recently, but it’s an especially appropriate description of the console’s 2018.

This wasn’t a year for new hardware nor a major blockbuster exclusive game. The most exciting announcement to come out of Microsoft was the news that it is acquiring game studios and setting itself up for many more exclusive games in the years to come.

“We had a pretty good year. We could do better—but we had a pretty good year,” Xbox boss Phil Spencer said last week at The Game Awards, before acknowledging some of the platform’s success. It’s a humble time for Xbox, which did manage to have a year marked by cool improvements, interesting experiments, and a steady stream of good multiplayer games.

Hardware

When we last left the Xbox One hardware in late 2017, it was in a confused state. Instead of one console, we had three: the original Xbox One, the slightly more powerful Xbox One S and the all-new, all-powerful Xbox One X. New units of that original Xbox One has become scarce (though there are still plenty pre-owned), leaving only the S and X to think about.

The Xbox One S plays all the Xbox One games competently for a relatively modest price. The Xbox One X plays all of the Xbox One games as best as they can be played, often with better support for 4K visuals and a visual advantage over how any multiplatform game looks on any PS4. As it was when the Xbox One X launched, it’s the difference between basic and premium. The prices have shifted slightly since late 2017, from $399 for the Xbox One S and $649 for the Xbox One X to $329 and $559 respectively (often with bundled games).

The only notable addition to the Xbox hardware lineup this year is the Xbox Adaptive controller, a special customisable gamepad for disabled gamers. The devices consists of a white gamepad with two large buttons and a d-pad, with inputs for a wide variety of optional accessories, including one-handed controllers, foot pedals and large standalone buttons to be placed in convenient locations. The main unit sells for $129.99, with add-on accessories available in the United States (but not in Australia) from $US20 ($28) to $US399 ($554.20).

Network And Services

Now that each of the big three has a paid online gaming service, Xbox Live is less obnoxious than ever before. Regular stable online play and a revolving stable of downloadable games at no additional cost? Feels like that’s the way it’s always been.

What’s bigger, better and bolder with this year’s Xbox One services is the continued evolution of the Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft continued to add new and old games to the $10.95 monthly subscription service.

The Xbox Game pass features more than 200 games that any subscriber can download and play for the length of their subscription, with the option to purchase games permanently at a 20 per cent discount.

AU Editor's Note: Xbox Game Pass is currently running a $1 offer for the first month of Xbox Game Pass until early January.

The Xbox Game Pass got its biggest boost back in January, when Microsoft announced that every first-party game released for the Xbox One would be available day one to subscribers to the service.

Games like Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2 and Forza Horizon 4 were free to subscribers the day they launched. Upcoming games like Crackdown 3 and Halo Infinite should follow suit. Not too shabby.

Microsoft still remains the champion of cross-play between game platforms, one of the benefits of putting out both a major game console and the dominant PC gaming operating system. The Xbox Play Anywhere program is alive and well, with major first-party releases playable on both PC and Xbox One. With Sony finally getting on the cross-play bandwagon, we’ll soon all be one big happy family.

On the user interface front, Xbox One’s dashboard didn’t undergo as many big evolutions this year as it did in 2017. In July, Microsoft added the ability to group up to 12 games together so they appear under a single tab.

These collections can make it easy for organising ever-growing libraries of digital games by things like genre or even personal labels like “need to play” or “in-progress.” Microsoft finally added the ability to gift games on the Xbox One store, something that’s still not possible on either PS4 or Switch.

Toward the end of the year, Xbox One added mouse and keyboard support for some games. It’s especially convenient for games that got ported to Xbox One from PC, but still control better on the latter, like Fortnite and Warframe.

Due to built in cross-play restrictions, players using controllers don’t have to worry about competing with those on mouse and keyboard either. It’s also a nice way to pretend Halo 5 actually got released on PC.

This was also the year Microsoft brought back animated 3D avatars. They’re more detailed and more diverse this time around, keeping with one of Microsoft’s themes this year about promoting inclusivity in games. Given the dwindling prominence of Nintendo’s Miis, it’s been a welcome sight to see Xbox embracing something more whimsical and playful.

The Xbox Insider program evolved slightly this year as well. Players in the program have always been able to preview upcoming changes to the platform and try some new games for free before they’re released, but this year Microsoft added a new tier called Skip Ahead that lets Insider players preview games and features much farther out in development, which the company used to test the return of profile avatars among other things early in the year, months before their official rollout to the general public.

The Games

In 2018, Xbox owners finally got to see what Rare, the studio behind Banjo-Kazooie and Viva Pinata, had been up to since since its last original game: 2014’s extremely mixed Kinect Sports Rivals. The answer was Sea of Thieves, an online multiplayer treasure-hunting pirate game where the water’s beautiful and the brig is nearly always full.

After a lacklustre launch, Sea of Thieves’ continued free updates improved and expanded the game with new stuff like private pirate crews and more dangerous and exotic enemies.

That said, it still hasn’t turned into an unmissable game the likes of which you’d find on PS4 or Switch. Launching simultaneously on Game Pass was a nice bonus.

State of Decay 2 was a similar story. The fun survival zombie sandbox wasn’t quite ready for primetime when it launched in May, in large part because of all of the bugs, but its updates have improved it, too. It’ still no Game of the Year contender like God of War or Spider-Man, which is the unfortunate position Xbox finds itself in so late in this console cycle.

The Xbox One grabbed its share of some former PS4 console exclusives this year, including Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Nier: Automata and No Man’s Sky. The last of those used its Xbox One debut as an occasion to finally add true, interactive multiplayer. There was also the addition of a few console exclusive indie games like Pit People and this month’s Below. It’s too early to tell though whether the latter be the Xbox One’s Cuphead for 2018.

One of the only major bright spots in the console’s library was Forza Horizon 4. Sure, Microsoft releases a Forza of some sort every year, but Horizon 4 stands out as more than an annual iteration. It is one of the best driving games in recent memory, marrying gorgeous scenery and changing seasons with sumptuous cars and an excellent balance of arcade fun and light realism.

It also took advantage of the Xbox One X’s much-hyped billing as “the most powerful console ever made,” being playable at 60fps or 30fps while displaying in 4k.

At max resolution, and using the console’s HDR, it’s one of the most beautiful looking games playable anywhere.

Other Xbox One mainstays have continued to get updates, most notably the previously beleaguered Halo: Master Chief Collection, which had its multiplayer finally fixed in August, and which got Xbox One X enhanced the same month. The list of backwards compatible games has also continued to grow, with many of them getting Xbox One X enhanced as well.

The Future

The Xbox One platform heads into 2019 in solid shape, at least in terms of how the box itself runs and the services around it. Game Pass, backwards compatibility, and incremental updates and enhancements to specific games make the Xbox One, S, and X ecosystem feel healthy.

The big question mark, however, remains whether it is ready to offer more system-justifying exclusive games worth.

Crackdown 3, which was delayed again in 2018, is set to come out in February at long last. Beyond that Gears 5 also has a release window of 2019, and Halo Infinite is also on the horizon, though no release date was given when it was teased at this year’s E3.

We did at least get new screenshots of Crackdown 3 this year. (Screenshot: Microsoft, Crackdown 3)

Those new sequels are nice, but the lack of meaningful exclusives for the platform has been conspicuous the last few years. And that is what Microsoft finally seems committed to fix. At E3 in June, Xbox boss Phil Spencer announced the company had acquired State of Decay’s Undead Labs, Forza Horizon’s Playground Games, Hellblade’s Ninja Theory, and We Happy Few’s Compulsion.

In addition, it has formed a new game studio called The Initiative to be led by former Crystal Dynamics head, Darrell Gallagher. Then at the console’s Fanfest in November, Spencer announced Microsoft had acquired role-playing game makers Obsidian and Inxile. While Spencer didn’t have any new sales to announce at this year’s Game Awards, the event did premiere a trailer for Obsidian’s next game, The Outer Worlds, which basically looks like Fallout: New Vegas in space.

That game won’t be Xbox-exclusive but it hints at what’s to come for Xbox exclusives next console cycle.

It’s unclear when the rebuilding will end and whether the new studios will have great works to release exclusively for Xbox fans this console cycle. This year we saw more of Microsoft’s blueprints for what it’s constructing. Xbox fans need more excellent games.

Whether they’ll get them in sufficient abundance in 2019 to complement a platform full of interesting services and exciting strategic risks, is the big question.


Comments

    Heh, the X1X is my 'retro gaming' machine, used for XB360 era titles (of which there was a few exclusives) and FH4.

    That's about it though.

    As someone who owns a Switch, Beast PC and a PS4, even I can't justify buying a Xbox One. I was eyeing off the awesome Black Friday deal during the sales and even then I was like "yeah... but what is there REALLY on this console that makes it a must buy". Almost all the good games are on PC anyways, and there are no exclusives which are must owns this generation. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little keen on the Rare Retro Collection, but that's not really a good reason to buy a next gen console.

      I understand the pickle you're in!!! I was the same, except for me it was trying to justify getting a PS4 (or the Pro). I use my Xb1X predominantly as the main gaming/video/entertainment hub for my lounge and then use the Switch and PS4 Pro for exclusives. My PC while a beast is predominantly used for stuff other than gaming, but when I do I play "some" games (especially when you can't resist great deals on steam sales), and the Xbox Play Anywhere feature allows me to switch between the PC and Xb1X for games that support it.

      I suppose the main thing is this - if you've got a 4K HDR enabled TV then the Xb1X makes a much better argument. If you don't, then it becomes a lot harder to differentiate it with the rest.

        See in your case though, I'd say "hell yeah get a PS4". The exclusives on it are awesome and worth the purchase alone :)

        Heck I was considering upgrading my PS4 to a Pro just to experience some of these titles in slightly better graphics ;P

        Last edited 12/12/18 10:36 pm

      Own all. The Xbox was actually my first purchase, but it lost the fight for my 4th HDMI port a year ago and I can't remember the last time it was booted. It's also probably a million firmware updates overdue while the other three are played at least weekly.

      The Xbox's exclusives slowed to a trickle and I'm just not as excited about Gears or Halo like I was as a teenager, while the PS4 has been on a tear with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Spidey, etc. When RDR2 came around, I picked the PS4 version. Yeah, it looks better on Xbox One X, but now I prefer the convenience of one fewer boxes. And I doubt I'll buy even one more Xbox game before this gen is out, let alone an Xbox One X.

    Yeah, the boneS has been my UHD player for this year, and nothing else. I've considered upgrading to a boneX to play multi-platform titles at their best performance/quality, but it's starting to feel pretty late in the piece to justify the cost, especially since I already grabbed the boneS.

    How many more multi-platform titles are we going to get before the next generations are announced and PS5 changes everything? There's certainly no exciting exclusives on the MS platform to add any sales pressure there.

    In the exclusives space, Sony is non-optional for my tastes, a mandatory platform for my library, which makes additional microsoft platform upgrade just... an optional extra I don't feel I can justify. I didn't even finish Halo 5, I was that disappointed with it. And without Halo, what is there? Gears? Yawn. Racing/sports games? I don't play 'em. Crackdown? Maybe? Ennnnh...

    If the xbone-Z or whatever the next one is just smashes the specs on the PS5, I might need to get it for all my cross-platform releases, but Sony's just fucking killing it on exclusives to the point that I'll need both even if I do try to make MS's my 'main'. They really need better exclusives or a bigger margin on hardware performance.

      A full 30% performance uplift from Pro to X isn't a big enough margin? Sheesh man, I really can't think you can run that argument since the Pro generally can't hit 4k, and if it does, drops below 30 fps all the time on most titles.

      The rest I'm happy to agree with you on, but that statements non-sensical.

        There's the thing - it's not 30% in end-of-the-day total experience. It's 30% of a certain aspect.

        Quibbling below:
        You always have to chose between frames and resolution. That's the compromise developers bake in as standard, now. And regardless of which you pick, you're never getting 60 frames at 4K on anything. For either console, it's basically a choice between 4K at the standard, servicable console expectation of 30fps with ocasional dips vs occasional peaks beyond it that are still never reach 50-60. 30% sounds big, but hitting 40 from 30... isn't. Or you pick frames as the game's optional preference, you get a few extra particle/lighting effects. Draw distance, maybe.

        And that's not enough of a difference in either of those choices to justify the extra spend, considering I already upgraded from bone to boneS - even with generous trade-in deals + sale discounts, you're out of pocket a few hundred bucks per transition. I'm not buying a third xbone without some seriously compelling reasons, and god-rays/a couple fewer frame dips doesn't cut it when I could instead upgrade my PC (thanks MS store!).

        My current assessment is that we're just too late in the life cycle for me to justify yet another incremental upgrade, when a generational leap may be around the corner. Of course, if that 'leap' turns out to be not as dramatic... as in still can't do 4K 60fps, and maybe the value proposition gets better or maybe I wait and start leap-frogging, mobile style.

          I would digress, the X's 30% uplift is the difference between a generally stable 30fps, and DSR and frame droop hell.

          That being said, I've never thought of consoles as 60 fps machines (although being honest, I'm quite happy with the X being able to push stable 60 most of the time @ 1080p, AND having the option to choose between 1080p and 4k as well in most titles, another of which PS4 lacks).

          But yeah, I'm fine with not being able to justify buying another console and it being late in the generation (strong chance we will see new consoles for Christmas \ mid 2020).

      The X smashes the ps4pro.

      I can see why most people prefer the exclusives of Sony and even just like Sony better. As far as getting the best, smoothest play to cross platform games, it's no contest.

        I've considered upgrading to a boneX to play multi-platform titles at their best performance/quality...

        I never said it was a contest. I was more concerned about the value proposition of buying the fifth increment in power for this generation. I'm currently using the 2nd-best, and have bought all three stages below it, too.

        I sink hundreds more into chasing a few more frames/effects improvement, or wait and see if the next gen delivers a dramatic shake-up. Then maybe the boneX drops in price to accommodate the new entrants and I get that, or I continue on the the PSN ecosystem getting either the new best/2nd-best and stay on top of those exclusives I prefer. If it weren't for the current balance of strengths on exclusives (IMO), it'd be a harder call than it currently is.

        We're basically at the point where it'd take not just hardware supriority for cross-platform but competitive exclusives as well to sway me to maining with MS instead of Sony, unfortunately.

          It is a contest when comparing specs. No doubt Sony has more to offer this gen all every other area. All I was saying is the xbox x is a big jump in power. It's not a close call as you mentioned

          I absolutely LOVE my X1X, but freely admit that the PS4 has smashed Xbox out of the park this generation with their stream of excellent exclusives.

          At least Xbox has FINALLY admitted to this and is buying up their own studios to try and compete with the exclusives.

            Yeah, the big rash of studio purchases a few months ago was very interesting. At the very least it would indicate a change in focus, but given the timescale that gamedev operates on, I'm wondering if this is their attempt to write off the current gen then go charging out of the gate from a position of strength for the next generation. They've clearly lost this gen because of the initial poor start, then getting pipped with the S/Pro competition, only finally getting a tech advantage with the boneX, but all the 'one console' financially-constrained consumers had already made their choice by that point.

            It was a puzzling reversal of what we saw the generation prior, which they won handily by being the first to market by about a year, even though the 360 wasn't as technically poweful as the PS3, it was close enough, and had the games and people sank their investment into it early. It took a good 5+yrs of dedicated focus on exclusives and better cross-platform (not easy, thanks to Cell) for PS3 to catch up then eventually overtake. You'd think that MS would've learned from that and come out either much earlier or much better, and focused on games... Didn't happen.

            Maybe that's going to happen with Xbox Next or whatever they call it. (I will forever call the 'one' series the bones, though. No-one gets to pick their own 'cool' nickname, dammit.) As someone who'll get either the first or second version of whatever each platform comes out with, it's exciting.

        It's a no contest... except my PC absolutely smashes the Xbone so there is no reason for me to get it except maybe for the Halo games?

        If we're talking purely console, the PS4 > Xbox One. When people look back at this gen, it's the PS4 that will be seen the winner. More sold. More successful. More fun. No point in having the best hardware if you've got no games to show it off with.

        Not sure what you're arguing about.... trying to defend the purchase maybe?

          I agree that sony has more to offer this gen. I was only referring to the previous comment stating the pro is almost as good as the X. That's just not true.

          And sorry, so many games don't go to pc or go to pc very late. Plus it's not a console. You want the best cross platform performance, we all know what's best

            Or no one cares about cross platform performance? It's the exclusives that sell a console. If you're buying the console that has the worst exclusives purely for power then you're doing it wrong. Blind fanboism at it's worst! (and this is from someone who has owned almost every console over the last 20 years, Xbox, Xbox 360 and an Xbox One early on before selling it when I was disappointed over long loading/installation times, crappy menu screen and literally zero exclusives on it to write home about).

            Difference between a fanboi and a rational gamer is, I can admit the Xbox One is the most powerful console, but due to lack of titles, Microsoft bungling it's releases with re-release upon re-release and everything else, it has well an truly lost this generation. And history will remember it and rightfully so. As I mentioned previously, if there was something worth getting the Xbone for, I would've happily shelled out for one (especially that monster Black Friday deal). But even with my insane inability to control myself when it comes to spending $, I couldn't justify it as there is literally nothing to play on it that makes it stand out from the Switch (nintendo exclusives) or the PS4 (Sony Exclusives).

            And sorry, you're wrong. Bugger all games don't go to pc or go to pc very late... someone needs to stop living in the 90's. Almost all of the "big" titles you're ranting on about being the best cross platform were released alongside PC. The only recent one that I can think of that didn't come to PC was RDR2 (and of course I picked it up on my PS4).

            Reminds me of when I bought a Dreamcast, It was the most powerful machine by far of it's generation, but bugger all games and 3rd party support, meant it went down in history as a failure.... do I try and run around telling people it was the best console of that gen? No, because it was absolutely destroyed by the PS2 and rightfully so. The Dreamcast was so much more powerful, but it didn't matter in the end.

              Your missing the point, i have no fanboism here, i even agree Sony has better exclusives. Im not arguing what the better console is because that all comes down to personal opinion and therefore is subjective. All I'm really saying is that power wise, performance wise (Which does matter when you're trying to play all the triple A games to the best of their ability) the X kills the pro. No opinion dude, just facts.

              If i do have fanboism its for Nintendo, that company could sell a piece of crap with their logo on it and id buy it. Now, one thing i wouldn't buy on Nintendo is a cross platform game, why? because the X will do it waaaaaaaaaay better. (unless i want a portable version.... and i normally do...... now I've opened a new can of worms hahah)

                I will agree on that. Power wise it does beat all the consoles out there this gen.

    I've still on an original XB1 and refuse to upgrade purely for graphics enhancements. I can't support the mentality that graphics are the only part of a game. I'd rather have a game that was just regular 1080p but had amazing gameplay and legnth of play. The other day I went through a few xbox 360 games and was amazed in how many I bought brand new and played the absolute bugger out of them, but xb1 games I tend to wait about 6 months and pick them up for 1/3 the price because I know it's going to be maybe like a weekend's worth of enjoyment. The state of modern gaming is slowly rotting away.

    I just bought one so I can play some games with my family in another state. Some part of me was ready to let my beloved PS4 PRO go, but after a week with the Xbox it is clear it will be a machine I only use for exclusives and playtime with the niece and nephew.

    The controller feels so cheap. The UI is nothing but a glorified shopping mall. Open up a PS4 menu, there are all your games and unless you scroll down you never see ads, on Xbox all you see is ads, ads everywhere. And everything is so complicated. There is XBox Live Gold, then the pass thing. When you go to the store sometimes when you try buy something, you have to go into multiple submenus to see the price.

    Then I have had all sorts of problems getting things to work, menuwise. So many little bugs in the set up process.

    Yes the pass is a great idea and so is back compatible. But ultimately Xbox feels like its purpose is to make money, PS4 is about games, front and centre.

      The xbone UI turns me off a LOT more than I expected it to, to the point that all other objections are just amplified. They really need to back off on ads/social and streamline the shopping/purchasing. Pinning things to the 'home page' helps a little, but it's an 'extra clicks' manual solution to something that should be a lot more intuitive and require zero attention. There's things that shit me about the PSN ribbon (it's mostly just how much they've sold out on the video side of things, forcing me to walk past a screen cluttered with dozens of apps I'm never, ever, ever going to use, just to get to the few I want to), but the bone UI makes me realize it could be much, much worse.

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