The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S launched last year during strange times, but now that the 2021 release schedule is starting to shape up, we’re finally able to see which exclusive games next-gen console owners can start to look forward to.
That also means that it’s time to start the debate that has defined so many of the console wars so far: “Which console has the best exclusive games?”
As you’ve probably already guessed, that’s the question we’re going to try to answer today. Before we dive into our breakdown of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s most notable upcoming exclusives in 2021, though, here are a few factors that you need to consider:
- The definition of “exclusive games” is constantly evolving, so we’re embracing a more modern definition of the concept. A game is eligible for this list if it will be available for PS5 or Xbox Series X/S but not the other console. That means that PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S games that will also be available for PC or previous-gen consoles made by the same manufacturer are eligible for consideration.
- There are very few “true” next-gen exclusives being released in 2021. By that, we mean games that will only be available for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S and no absolutely no other devices. We expect that to change in 2022 and beyond.
- An exclusive game has to be currently scheduled for release in 2021 to be eligible for consideration. That includes games with exact 2021 release dates and 2021 release windows.
- We will be updating these lists with new exclusives if and when they are revealed and as more release dates are confirmed.
2021 PlayStation 5 Exclusive Games
- Death Stranding: Director’s Cut
- Destruction All-Stars
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade
- Ghostwire Tokyo
- Horizon Forbidden West
- Jett The Far Shore
- Kena: Bridge of Spirits
- Oddworld Soulstorm
- Ratchet And Clank: Rift Apart
- Solar Ash
The first thing you’re going to notice about this shortlist of PS5 exclusives is that it’s rather…short. Part of the reason that’s currently the case is that the PlayStation team really hasn’t had their “big” presentation for the year while the Xbox team pretty much showed their hand at E3 2021. We expect PlayStation to expand its 2021 exclusive lineup sometime in the near future (even if those updates only include smaller titles).
One of the most interesting things about this list is that we’ve actually already played two of the biggest exclusives on it: Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Both of those games rank comfortably among the best games of 2021, and both are “true” PS5 exclusives. There’s a debate to be had about whether of those games are worth owning a PS5 for, but we’re reaching a point where we can start to judge the PS5 based on the strength of its overall exclusive library and not individual releases. So far as that goes, these are two exceptional additions to that library.
Beyond those titles, the only significant true PS5 exclusive on the horizon for 2021 is…well, Horizon Forbidden West. Everything we’ve seen of that game so far looks incredible, and we fully expect it to be both a worthy follow-up to the incredible original and perhaps the PS5’s best game so far.
From there, things get a little weird. For instance, Ghostwire Tokyo and Deathloop are actually being published by Bethesda. As you probably heard, Bethesda was recently acquired by Microsoft. Despite that acquisition, Bethesda has said that both of those games will still be timed PS5 console exclusives for a one-year period. Both titles look promising (especially Deathloop) and both could certainly prove to offer compelling reasons to buy a PS5 if you just can’t wait to play them on Xbox.
Then you have Death Stranding Director’s Cut and Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade: two upgraded ports of PS4 games. We don’t know much about Death Stranding‘s new content at this time, but Intergrade looks like a fantastic upgrade of the incredible original experience. In both cases, we expect these titles to be very appealing to those who missed these games the first time around and potentially appealing to those who are interested in buying them again for the upgrades.
Beyond, that you’ve got a mix of interesting smaller titles (Stray and Jett The Far Shore, for example) and games that already came out (Oddworld Soulstorm and Destruction All-Stars) and weren’t all that great. We’ll talk a little more about this in the next section, but at the moment, the PlayStation 5 lineup is lacking some smaller titles that could fill in the gap between the more significant releases. Timed exclusive Deatloop and Ghostwire Tokyo could help make the wait for Horizon Forbidden West a little more manageable, but the PS5 is certainly relying on its heavy hitters this year.
2021 Xbox Series X/S Exclusive Games
- Dead Static Drive
- Echo Generation
- Exo One
- Forza Horizon 5
- Halo Infinite
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- The Anacrusis
- The Artful Escape
- The Ascent
- The Big Con
- The Gunk
- The Wild at Heart
- Twelve Minutes
- Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer’s Legacy
- Warhammer 40K: Darktide
Unless something really surprising happens (whether it be a delay or a reveal), the Xbox team has seemingly shown us their 2021 exclusives hand. That makes it a lot easier to judge what they’re working with.
Honestly, there are only two real “heavy hitters” on this list: Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite. These are Xbox’s big new entries into established franchises, and thus the kind of games console manufacturers traditionally rely on to sell hardware. Well, after E3 2021, I can tell you that Forza Horizon 5 is stunning. How the game looks obviously doesn’t account for whether or not you care about this franchise, but if you have any interest in Forza or racing games, this could very well prove to be one of the year’s top titles.
As for Halo Infinite…well, the fact that Microsoft still can’t give us a definitive 2021 release date for the game certainly raises some alarms. Halo Infinite could very well be delayed to 2022, or Microsoft could decide to release part of it (likely the multiplayer part) this year and the rest of it next year. If the full package does release this year, the game should prove to be one of the year’s biggest titles. At the very least, Halo Infinite‘s free-to-play multiplayer mode could move a lot of Xbox Series X consoles this holiday season if it lives up to the hype.
You also have Microsoft Flight Simulator, which was obviously already released on PC, but seems to be getting enough of an upgrade in time for its Xbox Series X debut to make it a compelling exclusive for series fans who aren’t able to (or don’t want to) play the game on PC.
It’s actually when you look at some of the smaller games on this list that things start to get more interesting. Twelve Minutes, Sable, The Gunk, Scorn, and Shredders could all work their way into game-of-the-year conversations if for no other reason than the fact this is kind of a weird year for gaming. Microsoft is very interested in ensuring Xbox gamers have at least one notable title to look at each month, and they seem to be well on their way to accomplishing that goal by virtue of their support of these smaller titles.
That brings us to Game Pass. It’s hard to know what to do with Game Pass when you’re talking about exclusives. Game Pass will include day-one access to certain Xbox exclusives, but Game Pass itself is also something of an exclusive. That also means that you could argue the service enhances the value of titles like Hades, Psychonauts 2, and Back 4 Blood that may not technically be Xbox exclusives but will arguably be more accessible to Xbox users.
PlayStation 5 vs. Xbox Series X: Who Has the Better 2021 Exclusives?
This is an incredibly close call, but in the interest of naming a “winner” for the sake of conversation, I’m going with the PlayStation 5.
The thing is that I honestly think the Xbox Series X may end up having the better 2021 games lineup overall largely due to the number of indie titles the console is supporting and the value of Game Pass. In fact, we’re reaching a point where it’s hard to separate Game Pass from Xbox. If you’re a Game Pass subscriber, you’re about to be able to access more modern games (and a collection of classics) in 2021 than you may have ever had access to in your entire gaming life. It’s a great time to be an Xbox gamer.
If we’re just talking exclusives, though, then I can’t discount the fact that the only Triple-A Xbox exclusive that I’m confident is coming out this year is Forza Horizon 5 (not counting the PC exclusive Age of Empires 4). Even if Halo Infinite is released this year, serious questions remain regarding what kind of shape it’s in and how much of it we’ll get.
By comparison, PlayStation 5’s major exclusives for the year include Returnal, Rift Apart, Horizon Forbidden West, timed exclusives Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo, and notable remasters Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade and Death Stranding: Director’s Cut. I’m certainly worried about the PS5’s lack of games between those releases, but I’m more confident that each of those games is going to great (or very good) than I’m confident that some of those smaller Xbox titles are going to live up to what is certainly the high-end of their potential.