We’re almost two years into the life cycles of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, and simply finding a console is still something of a challenge. However, if you do manage to track down a system, the next big challenge might be finding an exclusive game to play. While exclusive games more or less defined the last two console generations, these days, even just nailing down what counts as an “exclusive” can be pretty slippery.
Still, since exclusive games can be a big factor in purchasing one console or the other, Tom’s Guide wanted to at least attempt a comparison between the two. In the competition of PS5 vs. Xbox Series X, who has the best exclusive games? To find out, we’ll first need to define what an “exclusive game” even means in the current gaming sphere.
First things first: We’re going to use the term “exclusive” a little more loosely than we might have in the PS3/Xbox 360 days. If you take “exclusive” to mean “available on one, and only one, console,” then the current console generation has precisely five exclusive games, all of which are on PS5. That wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting or insightful comparison.
After conferring with the rest of the Tom’s Guide staff, here is what we came up with, for the purposes of this article:
A “PS5 exclusive” is defined as “any new game (not a remaster) from a major publisher that has come out since the PS5 launch, which is not available on Xbox, and has a PS5-optimized version.” Under this definition, something like Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a PS5 exclusive; something like Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is not.
An “Xbox Series X/S exclusive” is defined as “any new game (not a remaster) from a major publisher that has come out since the Xbox Series X/S launch, which is not available on PlayStation, and has an Xbox Series X/S-optimized version.” Under this definition, something like Halo Infinite is an Xbox Series X/S exclusive; something like Gears 5 is not.
Bear in mind that many of PS5 exclusives have PC versions; all of the Xbox exclusives have PC versions. Again, the state of exclusives in 2022 is quite different than it was even three or four years ago.
We are aware that these are imperfect definitions, and don’t really account for certain edge cases. (Is Demon’s Souls more of a remake or a remaster? Does Microsoft Flight Simulator count if the PC version came out before the Xbox Series X one?) But it’s at least a working definition, and lets us try some apples-to-apples comparisons. Now, let’s dive in.
Based on our definition above, the PS5 has 12 major exclusive games:
In terms of metrics, Tom’s Guide has reviewed 10 of these games. Their score averages out to 4 out of 5 on our review scale, which we would consider “great.” On Metacritic, their score averages out to 80 out of 100, which is considered “generally favorable reviews.”
Granted, review scores aren’t everything, so take these for what they’re worth. But it’s good to have a numerical metric as a baseline.
In terms of overall quality, it’s hard to argue with the PS5’s output so far. Destruction AllStars was a bit of a dud, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure is probably not a kids’ game for the ages. But just about everything else on the list is a best-in-class experience, from the intricate clockwork world of Deathloop, to the instantaneous dimension-hopping in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
There’s a fair amount of variety here, with everything from first-person shooters to vehicular combat sims. Third-person action/adventure skews a bit heavy, admittedly, with five titles following similar formulas. But that’s not a majority, let alone an overwhelming one.
Overall, Sony has had a strong showing so far — even if relatively few of these games are truly “PS5 or bust.”
Xbox Series X/S exclusives
Based on our definition above, the Xbox Series X/S has three major exclusive games:
In terms of metrics, Tom’s Guide has reviewed all three of these games. Their score averages out to 4 out of 5 on our review scale, which we would consider “great.” On Metacritic, their score averages out to 88 out of 100, which is considered “generally favorable reviews.”
What struck me while researching Xbox Series X/S exclusives is just how few of them there are — at least from major publishers. (The indie scene is quite different, but there are thousands of indie games available on PC, Xbox and Switch — comparing availability among all of the platforms would be a whole project in and of itself.) Many “optimized for Xbox Series X/S” games came out years ago, and Microsoft seems more committed to building up its ecosystem than releasing console exclusives.
With such a small sample size, it seems difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about Xbox Series X exclusives in general. We can at least say that Forza Horizon 5 and Microsoft Flight Simulator are excellent games, and Halo Infinite is a pretty darn good one. There’s also a lot of variety on display here: an open-world racing game, a first-person shooter and an old-school flight sim.
As mentioned above, this piece is focused on titles from major publishers, which is what gamers usually think of when they think of “exclusives.” The complete picture is significantly more complex than that, once you take indies into account. The PlayStation has traditionally had a mercurial relationship with indie titles, whereas Microsoft went all-in on indie publishing years ago. If you want low-cost, low-budget titles and don’t feel like shelling out for a PC, the Xbox (or the Switch) is the place to go.
The “optimized for Xbox Series X/S” program also complicates matters. This program gives backwards-compatible titles a huge boost on Xbox. Certain games, such as Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, have PS4 editions, but not PS5 editions, making the Xbox version seem more compelling, too.
By the same token, it’s important to remember that few PS5 exclusives are actually, well, exclusive to the PS5. Fewer than half of the games on the list absolutely, positively require a PS5 to play, and Sony plans to support the PS4, in some capacity, through at least 2024.
Another point to consider is that Microsoft is purposely not pursuing exclusives to the same degree as Sony this generation. Microsoft has focused on building up a comprehensive ecosystem, which plays nicely with PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Android, iOS and non-gaming PCs. Xbox Game Pass ties all these disparate platforms together. Exclusive titles are a useful point of comparison, but it’s fair to say that they’re a much more important part of Sony’s strategy than Microsoft’s, at least for now.
Things could change in the future, however, as Microsoft has a bevy of exclusives planned for the next few years, including Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga, State of Decay 3, Fable 4, Starfield, The Outer Worlds 2, Avowed and more. Then again, PlayStation will have God of War: Ragnarök, Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI, to name a few.
PS5 exclusives vs. Xbox exclusives: Outlook
At present, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X have excellent exclusive titles. But there’s no denying that PS5 has a lot more of them: about four times as many, if you use our definitions. Then again, it’s worth remembering that this seems to be in line with Microsoft’s “play anything, anywhere” strategy.
As such, if you want to play titles that you can’t experience anywhere else, the PS5 is your best bet. If you want the best system for multiplatform releases, you might want to go with an Xbox Series X instead.
Of course, you could always invest in one of the best gaming PCs and get the best of both worlds — but that’s a lot more expensive.