Our last Gaming For Couples article looked at Nintendo’s Wii U as a complete package — it’s arguably the easiest console to recommend to casual gamers, lapsed players, and young families. But Microsoft’s Xbox One has started to surge as an alternative. For only $50 more than the Wii U, you get a much more powerful console, and unlike Nintendo, Microsoft has the support of a huge number of third-party developers.
There’s another big difference: even top-selling Xbox One games are discounted, which makes this console a great choice to play both Microsoft exclusives and cross-platform releases. In this week’s Gaming For Couples, we walk through the best Xbox One bundle options, as well as the top couple-friendly games, demos, and accessories out there.
Xbox One: The Basics
Just like the Wii U, Xbox One had a rough first year. Microsoft originally sold it for $500, and required users to buy the motion-sensing Kinect camera system. With the weaker Wii U and (arguably) more powerful PlayStation 4 both at lower price points, Microsoft realized it had made some mistakes. So it dropped Kinect from the package, slashed the price to $399.99, and began to offer free software with the console, helping sales. The Xbox One really took off during the 2014 holiday season when Microsoft temporarily dropped the price to $349, quickly becoming the #1 selling console in the United States. Today, the Xbox One is available for the same $349 price with your choice of two free Assassin’s Creed games (below) or Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Each Xbox One console comes with the same basic parts: the console with a 500GB built-in hard drive (versus 32GB in the Wii U), one wireless controller, a chat headset, and at least one game — either a physical disc copy, or a download code. The system remains connected to the Internet most of the time, using Microsoft’s Xbox Live service to access the Xbox Store for game and app downloads, and Xbox Live Gold subscription service for online multiplayer gaming.
Xbox One has the power of a modern desktop computer, including impressive high-definition 3-D graphics capabilities. A solid collection of apps enable the Xbox One to stream content from leading free and subscription video services, competing against the Apple TV. Microsoft has also announced that the Xbox One will be able to stream games to any Windows 10 computer or tablet in your house later this year.
Xbox One: Which Console Bundle To Buy
Microsoft offers a number of different Xbox One console bundles, starting at $349. The right one for your personal needs will depend on the games you want to play.
Assassin’s Creed Unity/Black Flag Bundle. The best Xbox One console for most people will be this $349 version, which includes two downloadable Assassin’s Creed games plus the console, controller, and headset. This bundle (and the one that follows) get you into the Xbox One at the lowest current price, regardless of whether you want the games. Each of the Assassin’s Creed games is a full-fledged 3-D action-adventure title, playable in single-player or multi-player modes. You can buy this bundle through Microsoft, or better yet through Amazon, where you’ll be able to save money on additional games and accessories at the same time.
Halo Bundle. Also for $349, Walmart offers an exclusive Xbox One bundle with Halo: Master Chief Collection, which compiles the original Xbox and Xbox 360 games Halo 1, 2, 3, and 4 on a single disc. This is a no-brainer pick for fans of Halo, as it includes four games for the same price as the Assassin’s Creed twin bundle, though Microsoft is still fixing issues with Halo’s multiplayer functionality. For everyone else, the choice comes down to whether you prefer futuristic first-person shooters (Halo) or historical action games (Assassin’s Creed). Couples will probably do better with Assassin’s Creed.
Refurbished Kinect, 3-Game + Xbox Live Gold Bundle. While this $399.99 bundle wouldn’t be our first choice due to its higher price, it has a lot of things going for it, all for only $51 more than the other bundles. First, you get three very different games — Titanfall, Dance Central Spotlight, and Ryse: Son of Rome — which increases the chances that someone will enjoy playing something. Second, it includes a Kinect motion sensor, which can be used with certain Xbox One games and to control the console’s interface. And third, it comes with one month of Xbox Live Gold. The catch is that the console is refurbished, not new. If you’re willing to take a shot on a used Xbox One, there’s a lot of stuff in the box to make it worth your while. This bundle is offered through Microsoft.
Xbox One: Which Controllers + Accessories Do You Need
A second controller. The only accessory you’ll definitely want if you’re playing as a couple is a second Xbox One Wireless Controller. If you plan to have family members join you, the console supports them without requiring any plugging in or special configuration. They’re sold for $60 each through the Microsoft Store, but can be had at a small discount through Amazon.
A recharging kit. One thing the Wireless Controller lacks is a rechargeable battery. Microsoft sells a battery pack and charging cable called the Play and Charge Kit for $25, and offers a controller and battery bundle called the Wireless Controller + Play and Charge Kit for $75, a $10 savings over separate purchases. Again, Amazon offers both the Play and Charge Kit and the controller bundle at small discounts.
Kinect. We’d call the Kinect motion sensor highly optional. When it was a required purchase with the Xbox One (which didn’t sell well at that time), there was a likelihood that many games would use its motion-sensing features. But as soon as Kinect dropped out of the box, game support started to thin out. If you’re a fan of dancing games or other titles with activities akin to Wii Sports, such as Microsoft’s Kinect Sports Rivals, you can consider buying Kinect from Microsoft at its standalone price of $150… or just buy it in a console bundle for a $50 (refurbished) premium. The standalone version of Kinect includes a digital download code for Dance Central Spotlight.
Xbox One: The Best Demos + Freebies
If you’re looking for free game demos to play on the Xbox One, there are two places to check: the Xbox Store, which makes demos somewhat hard to find, and the free app Game Demo Central, which currently focuses on 14 “featured” demos. Our top picks are:
FIFA Soccer. In addition to adding further realism to player animations and computer AI, EA’s latest and greatest soccer title now includes believable 3-D crowds.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. This family-friendly action game is part of the super-popular Lego series, featuring cartoony versions of Batman, Robin, and other DC Comics characters.
Forza Horizon 2. This open-world racing game offers the best combination of realism and accessible gameplay yet found in Microsoft’s flagship driving series, Forza. Rather than being confined to tracks, you can drive through fields and navigate between races using a sprawling world map.
Xbox Fitness. Currently free for Xbox Gold Live members, this Kinect-required app provides access to a large collection of fitness videos recorded by Jillian Michaels and other exercise coaches, and provides guidance on your home workouts.
Killer Instinct. Sequel to the hit 1990’s Nintendo/Rare arcade games, this one-on-one fighting game adds new characters and backgrounds during annual “seasons.” The demo version lets you try out a couple of characters; you can buy others individually or in season passes. Read more about Killer Instinct here; if you like this genre, we’d definitely recommend the full version of the game.
Xbox One: First Games To Buy
The most critically-lauded Xbox One games aren’t necessarily the ones that couples will play together, but we’ll mention them anyway:
Grand Theft Auto V. This is the latest in the control-a-criminal-commit-crimes series, now with even more amazing 3-D graphics than before. The Xbox One version includes a new first-person perspective, which was not in the Xbox 360 release, as well as much improved artwork. GTAV retails for $60, but you can save some cash at Amazon.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Wolfenstein: The New Order represent the best of the Xbox One first-person shooter genre, focusing on the distant future (Halo), near-future (Call of Duty) and past (Wolfenstein). Each of these games is commonly available at a discount through Amazon: Halo currently sells for $43, Call of Duty is $40, and Wolfenstein is $40. They’re all worth seeing.
Minecraft: Xbox One Edition is a high-resolution, large-map version of the world-exploring and -creating game that’s available on other platforms. Microsoft now owns Minecraft, so expect the Xbox One to get special love as updates and new versions are released. It’s normally $20, but you can save a little money through Amazon.
Two of the games we’ve covered in prior Gaming For Couples columns continue to be great first picks if you’re buying a console to play with your significant other.
Monopoly Plus. Discussed in this Gaming For Couples column, this impressive 3-D rendition of the classic board game Monopoly is an easy (and fun) way to convince a non-gamer to pick up an Xbox One controller. It’s typically $15 when purchased at the Xbox Store.
Peggle 2. Featured in our first Gaming For Couples column, Peggle 2 is the ultimate casual game — you point a cannon at a screen full of pegs, using 10 balls to remove all of the red pegs before you run out of ammo. It’s typically sold for $12 through the Xbox Store but occasionally goes on sale. A just-released “Magical Masters Edition” includes separately-sold add-ons for a total price of $15.
Xbox One Deals
Update (1/26 11:05am): GameStop offers the 12-Month Xbox Live Gold Membership w/ digital delivery for $39.99 (Reg. $60) or on eBay for $35.99 shipped for the Physical card.
If you want to save money on Xbox One games, as well as getting free games every month, the best investment you can make is an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Joining Gold lets you play multiplayer online games, entitles you to two or three free games per Xbox console — some for Xbox One, some for Xbox 360 — and cuts prices on select game downloads by 50-75%. We weren’t originally sold on this service, but the free software and discounts are significant benefits. Rather than paying full price ($25 to $60) through Microsoft, you can save $5 to $11 by buying Xbox Live Gold 3- or 12-month cards here.
Keep watching 9to5Toys for great deals, as well. This link is constantly updated with the latest Xbox One deals, which you can check out over time to see the best options we’ve found.