If you don't own an Xbox One, now's the time to pick one up. It didn't get off to the best start when it launched back in 2013, but if you're only looking at the past, you're missing what's ahead, and there's a lot to look forward to. Microsoft was on top of the world after the holiday season, having sold more consoles than Sony or Nintendo during the months of November and December. To kick off 2015, head of Microsoft's Xbox division and Microsoft Studios, Phil Spencer, recently presented an exciting look into the future of Xbox One, including how it will work with Microsoft's upcoming OS, Windows 10. Oh yeah, he also wore a Battletoads shirt, a not-so-small detail that may be a good sign that Rare, the Microsoft-owned studio with a sterling reputation for making great games, may finally be let off the Kinect leash and get back to doing what it does best. That's all speculation at this point, but what we do know is that in 2015, Xbox One owners will get the chance to play some very enticing exclusives and hopefully get an early taste of what happens when you bridge the gap between console and PC.
Exciting Big-Budget Exclusives
What better reason is there to choose a game console other than for its library of games? Microsoft's stable of AAA console exclusives got off to a great start in 2014 with Titanfall and Sunset Overdrive, but there's a lot of great games coming down the pipe, including Halo 5: Guardians from 343 Studios. Some people already got a taste of what's in store, with more than 20 million matches played during a recent, three week beta test. Of couse, there's more than just Halo; Microsoft and its partners are planning to resurrect a bunch of series in 2015 that found success on Xbox 360, including Fable, Crackdown, and Epic Games' Gears of War, the series that rivals Halo as the most iconic Xbox exclusive.
There's also a handful of third party blockbusters that are either exclusive to Xbox One or landing there first, including Rise of the Tomb Raider, the highly anticipated follow-up to the 2013 reboot, which is supposed to bring the "Tomb" back to Tomb Raider in a major way. Quantum Break is also on the way from Sam Lake and Remedy Entertainment (of Max Payne fame). Quantum Break will play along with digital, episodic show, and the way you play the game, which features time manipulations as one of its primary themes, will impact the outcome of the show.
You can't talk about exciting Xbox One exclusives without mentioning Scalebound from Platinum Games, the team responsible for the great Bayonetta 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and The Wonderful 101. Most of what we know about Scalebound at the moment is that you and a dragon companion fight side by side in the wilderness against massive monsters. We also know that Platinum makes excellent action games. The combination of Platinum's design prowess and dragons sounds too good to pass up, so don't be surprised if Scalebound ends up being a system seller for some people.
Mesmerizing Indie Exclusives
While big studios are plugging away, there are also a handful of indie teams making games for Xbox One, including Capybara Games, creators of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Super Time Force. The Toronto based team is prepping Below, a roguelike that embodies a strong sense of solitude and dread. The pulled back camera drives home the notion that you're small in the grand scheme of things, and Capybara Games has employed a foreboding palette and visual style that's worthy of what looks to be a difficult and downtrodden adventure. Who said games have to be cheery, anyway? We all need a little punishment, sometimes.
Xbox One owners will also be the first people who get the chance to play Moon Studios' Ori and the Blind Forest. It's got a fantastical atmosphere and whimsical characters that set the scene for one of the most promising platforming adventures to come along in a while, which channels classics such as Super Metroid, where skill progression determines where you can go and what you can do. It's proven to be a great experience in early demos, and may be the surprise indie hit of 2015 when it hits Xbox Live on March 11.
One of the smartest moves that Microsoft made in 2014 was to offer a version of Xbox One without Kinect. It's not that Kinect doesn't have merits, but it drives the cost of the console up significantly. Making Kinect optional was step one to lowering the cost of an Xbox One, down to about $400. What's step two? Knocking off 1/8th of that price for a limited time, bringing the asking price down to $350 in North America. This helped Microsoft sell a lot of consoles during the holiday season, and while the offer ended shortly after the new year, Microsoft reinstated it a few weeks ago, making Xbox One the runner-up for cheapest current-gen console after Nintendo's Wii U. Meanwhile, PlayStation 4 still costs $400. There's no time limit set for the current Xbox One promotion, and given that Microsoft brought it back so soon after the first limited-time offer, don't be surprised if the current $350 asking price sticks around.
Cross platform multiplayer
Consoles don't necessarily compete with gaming PCs in the same way they do with one another, and given that Microsoft's Windows is the backbone of PC gaming, we're thankful to see that Microsoft is finally looking for ways to unite the two platforms. Starting with Fable Legends, Xbox One and Windows players will be able to join forces and play together, something that Microsoft will offer on future titles on a game by game basis. Cross platform multiplayer isn't a new concept, but it's a rare feature, and something Microsoft is poised to take advantage of moving forward given its position in both the console and PC space.
PC Streaming with Windows 10
With the arrival of Windows 10, Xbox One owners will be able to stream their console games to their PC. While this isn't as exciting as total cross-compatibility between PC and Xbox One, it's nothing to shake a stick at. Microsoft hasn't had an answer for Sony's Remote Play feature until now, and though you won't be able to stream outside of your home's local network, you will be able to free up your TV when it's in high demand without giving up your ability to use your Xbox One in the process.
Microsoft's Super Secret Xbox Team
Based on a job listing, Microsoft is recruiting for a team that will work in secret on experimental projects, many of which will fail, but some of which may redefine the future of entertainment. Bold claims, but if anything amazing comes from this team, you can be sure Xbox One owners will reap the benefits. Here are a few excerpts from the job listing:
"A new team has formed in Microsoft's Xbox division with a specific purpose: to push the envelope of today's and tomorrow's technology as we explore new ideas from the ground floor. It begins with veterans from Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, and Kinect. But we’re growing as quickly as our imaginations can be translated into code."
"Most of what we work on is top-secret; you may not know what your new project is until you've accepted an offer. Not all of our ideas will fly. We will fail, and fail fast, on some projects. We will celebrate those failures because they are vital to making sure the right ideas take off in a big way."
"If you’re passionate about the potential for Kinect to continue to revolutionize entertainment and are a seasoned software engineer with the skills to prototype and build the future of premium Kinect-powered experiences, we have a growing team of talented people who want to take entertainment into the future."
With Xbox One's cheaper price tag, a bounty of exciting games on the horizon, and the promise of interoperability with Windows 10, there's never been a better time to join the Xbox One party.