Back in 2017, Microsoft launched the Xbox One X, which has been dubbed the “world’s most powerful console,” expanding the company’s hardware library and making 4K console gaming a reality. Since then, Microsoft has been on a tear, getting lots of gamer love for expanding its backwards compatibility program and launching a compelling subscription service dubbed Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox has kept its foot on the gas with services like Game Pass and Xbox Play Anywhere, which lets you play certain titles across both console or PC. But as 2018 comes to a close, Microsoft has yet to remedy its biggest complaint from consumers –– a lack of first-party exclusives.
From games to services, here’s how the Xbox One and its various iterations fared in 2018.
Microsoft is to be commended for its efforts to make gaming more accessible. This year, the company brought mouse and keyboard support to the Xbox One for those of us that would rather not futz around with the controller. It’s especially important for games like Fortnite and Divinity: Original Sin II that are at their best when played on a desktop.
Speaking of controllers, this is the year Xbox launched the Adaptive Controller, which allows gamers with disability to get in on the fun. Since the peripherals’ launch, there’s been a slew of videos showing people how to create profiles or mod the hardware to get even more functionality.
On the software side, Microsoft finally updated the Avatar system, adding fun new customization options. We also got improved Cortana support and Alexa implementation in case you need to don’t feel like pushing a button to capture a screenshot or video.
MORE: Best Xbox One Games
Games: The Missing Component
Microsoft’s biggest stumbling block this year has been its lack of AAA first-party exclusives, an issue that’s been dogging the Xbox One since its initial launch. This year, outside of Forza Horizon 4, State of Decay 2 and Sea of Thieves, Xbox has been pretty quiet on the exclusives front.
Instead, they’ve been busy pushing Xbox Game Pass and the system’s stellar reputation in regards to backwards compatibility. This is OK for now, but with PlayStation boasting games like God of War and Spider-Man, Microsoft is going to have to catch up fast.
It seems like Xbox has found a feasible solution to the games problem, as Microsoft announced at E3 2018 that it had purchased a number of game studios to get the first-party pipeline pumping. In addition to 343 Studios, heavy-hitters like Obsidian Studios, Inxile Studios, Ninja Theory, The Initiative, Undead Labs and Playground Games are all now under the Microsoft umbrella. That brings the number of studios under Xbox’ purview up to 13. Let’s just hope that 13 will be gamers’ lucky number in 2019.
Xbox Game Pass is going stronger than ever. Microsoft’s gaming version of Netflix costs $9.99 monthly or $59.99 for six month of access. Boasting over 100 games for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and the original Xbox, the service offers a solid mix of past and current titles including Gears of War 4, Fallout 3 and Ninja Gaiden Black. And if you want to own the title instead of rent, you can purchase it with a 20 percent discount (10 percent off for add-ons). Similar to Netflix, Game Pass’ list is updating constantly with new additions and omissions every month.
Xbox remains the only console to offer EA Access, Electronic Arts’ take on subscription gaming, which currently offers more than 50 games. And then you still have Xbox Games with Gold (part of Microsoft’s $60-per-year Xbox Live Gold service for online play), where you can get two free games per month, plus various discounts.
Microsoft did a lot of great things this year when it comes to Xbox. It leveled the playing ground with the Adaptive Controller while showing love to the PC faithful with mouse and keyboard support. The company also scored points by continuing to build on its backwards compatibility support as well as beef up Xbox Game Pass.
However, none of this excuses the glaring hole in Xbox’s armor –– the lack of first-party exclusives. However, Microsoft did acquire a large number of game studios to build up its library in the future. That’s cold comfort to current Xbox One owners who are left waiting in the lurch. Still, the purchases are a positive step forward for 2019 and beyond.
Overall Grade: B-