We are two years into this current console generation and the debate over whether Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is the superior platform continues to rage on. Debates over hardware and online services continue, but the real deciding factor for any serious gamer should come down to one thing: the games.
Games are what it's all about, after all. Exclusive games are the experiences that define a console. One exclusive killer app can become a system seller, with people willing to spend $400 just to have the chance to play.
When you look at it that way, does the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4 come out on top? Which console has the exclusive experiences gamers want to play? And it's not just about first-party titles, either. In today's gaming landscape, timed exclusives and downloadable content exclusivity also play a large role in deciding which console a potential buyer will pick up. Let's break it down.
PlayStation 4: When it comes to first-party exclusives, Sony has a long list of franchises to pull from. Series like God of War, Uncharted and Ratchet and Clank are all critically acclaimed franchises that fans can't get enough of. Remastered versions of God of War and Uncharted help to hold fans over until new installments, but what about new IP?
Here, too, Sony has its bases covered with games like the upcoming horror title Until Dawn and the stunning Horizon: Zero Dawn from Guerrilla Games. Then, of course, there is The Last Guardian. Long thought dead, Sony reassured fans that the title from the creators of the critically acclaimed Ico and Shadow of the Colossus was still in development. Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last Guardian are likely still a ways off, but at least it gives PlayStation gamers something to look forward to.
Xbox One: You can't talk first-party exclusives without talking Halo. The sci-fi shooter defined "killer app" when Halo: Combat Evolved launched alongside the original Xbox, and since then the franchise has been a staple of Microsoft's first-party lineup. Halo 5: Guardians is coming later this year and Halo fans now have nearly every Halo game in one collection on Xbox One. But outside of Halo, what else does Xbox bring to the table?
As it turns out, a lot. There is, of course, Gears of War, which will be getting a remastered version in the coming months along with Gears of War 4 down the line. Microsoft also owns Rare, which allows Xbox to have exclusive access to the famed developers long list of franchises like Killer Instinct and Banjo-Kazooie. Many of those older titles will be bundled together in Rare Replay, also available later this year. The latest installment in Microsoft's well received Forza racing franchise also returns this year. The Xbox lineup only continues from there, with games like Quantum Break, Crackdown 3 and Scalebound all making their way to Microsoft's console in the coming years. There is also the Fable series to consider, which will be taking free-to-play form this holiday with Fable Legends.
Verdict: It's a close call to be sure, but we have to hand this category over to Microsoft. Not only does Xbox have an impressive future lineup in Gears of War 4, Quantum Break, Crackdown 3 and Scalebound, but the company also has a number of great exclusives that will be out this year in the forms of Forza 6, Halo 5, Rare Replay and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.
Advantage: Xbox One
PlayStation 4: The war to attract independent developers has been a fierce one this console generation. Right from the start, Sony showed a willingness to give indie games their fair share of the spotlight, and as a result a number of indie games call the PS4 their console home. Leading the indie charge is the ambitious No Man's Sky, which continues to take away the collective breaths of audiences everywhere year after year. The game will finally launch soon, and with it Sony will have a potential system seller.
Xbox One: There is no question Microsoft fumbled out of the gate in the way it approached indie games. Since then the company has attempted to fix the error of its ways, and for the most part it looks like it has succeeded. Despite not having nearly as many indie titles available on Xbox One as Sony makes available on its platform, Microsoft does have a number of exclusive smaller titles that have attracted plenty of attention. The punishing Metroidvania platformer Ori and the Blind Forest received rave reviews when it released earlier this year, and Cuphead, a game that looks like a 1950s-era cartoon brought to life, is turning heads left and right. There is also Inside, the next title from the developer of Limbo, for gamers to be excited about.
Verdict: Though Microsoft has a number of promising indie titles coming exclusively to Xbox One, the sheer number of indie games available on Sony's platform can't be beat. Indie developers have flocked to the PlayStation 4, resulting in an unprecedented number of games for gamers to choose from. The gap is closing, but for now this category goes to PlayStation.
Advantage: PlayStation 4
Timed Exclusives And DLC
PlayStation 4: Now even nonexclusive games can be masqueraded as exclusive thanks to timed exclusivity. It's annoying, to be sure, but there is no question both Microsoft and Sony are more than willing to shell out huge amounts of cash to have games and DLC come out on their platforms first. Sony in particular has been busy. The company has treated Destiny like a first-party title, with PlayStation gamers getting a number of timed exclusive weapons and missions a year before Xbox One players. Sony made a number of huge, timed exclusive announcements at this year's E3 as well, including that PS4 would be the new "home" of Call of Duty, receiving all DLC ahead of Xbox. The long-dreamt-of Final Fantasy VII remake was also announced to be coming to PS4 first when it is eventually released.
Xbox One: Having given up Call of Duty DLC timed exclusivity to Sony, Microsoft doesn't have much to show in this category. Sony continues to feature exclusive content for a number of third-party games that appear on both platforms, which may be a major contributing factor as to why Sony is absolutely pummeling Microsoft when it comes to software sales for their respective consoles. When it comes to third-party games, gamers are simply choosing to buy on PlayStation instead of Xbox. What timed exclusive Xbox One does have is at least a big one: Rise of the Tomb Raider. More than a few gamers cried out in protest when Microsoft announced that Lara Croft's next adventure would be exclusive to Xbox for "Holiday 2015", and it's clear Microsoft invested a lot of money to make it that way. There is also the space-sim Elite: Dangerous, coming to Microsoft's console ahead of Sony's this year.
Verdict: Rise of the Tomb Raider or not, Sony's sheer number of timed exclusive deals and exclusive content for third-party titles on the PS4 eclipses Microsoft's one and only big gun.
Advantage: PlayStation 4
The Japan Factor
PlayStation 4: One major advantage of owning a PlayStation 4 is the sheer number of more niche, Japanese titles that are available. From JRPGs to the recently released Godzilla, these Japanese titles are games only available on Sony's console. After all, Sony is a Japanese company, and the PlayStation 4's massive global install base means that there is beyond a doubt an audience for these Japanese titles oversees.
Xbox One: The Xbox One sold a dismal 100 consoles in Japan between June 8 and June 14. That is an abysmally low number, even for a console that has always struggled in the land of the rising sun. Since very few Japanese gamers own Microsoft's console, don't expect Japanese developers to focus on developing for the platform anytime soon. Or ever.
Verdict: This category is simple. The Xbox One is failing in Japan. As a result, don't expect to see many anime or JRPG titles on Xbox anytime soon. If you are a fan of Japanese games, PlayStation 4 is the obvious choice.
Advantage: PlayStation 4
Though it was a close call in a number of categories (excluding the Japan Factor), Sony in our analysis seems to have Microsoft beaten in more than a few ways. The sheer number of games on PlayStation 4 not available on Xbox is staggering when you factor in both Japanese titles and indie games, and while Microsoft has an incredibly strong first-party lineup, Sony's dominance in every other category makes the PS4 the clear winner of this showdown.
Not that our analysis is in any way scientific. When it comes down to it, a gamer's console of choice should come down to the games they want to play and what console they will be available on. Whether it is Halo on Xbox One or Uncharted on PlayStation 4, there is plenty of gaming goodness all around. Sony's platform simply has more goodness to choose from.