The 12 Best Games For The Xbox One

The 12 Best Games For The Xbox One
Illustration: Sam Woolley
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The Xbox Series X is more or less a suped-up Xbox One, so if you’ve had trouble getting your hands on the newer machine, don’t fret. In fact, given the absence of next-gen launch exclusives, most of the best games you could play on the thing are Xbox One games, anyway. Over its seven years and three major hardware iterations, thousands of terrific games came out for Microsoft’s once-just-a-Halo machine. Here are the best of the best.

But first, there’s something we need to talk about.

Xbox Game Pass

Microsoft is unique among its console peers in that it lets you game on its platform through a robust subscription service in lieu of having to buy each game individually. For $10 per month you can join Xbox Game Pass. All first-party games join the service on their first day of release, and many major games from other software publishers end up there as well. Of the 12 games on this list, six of them are available on Game Pass as of 9/15/2020.

Screenshot: Activision Screenshot: Activision

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is a time capsule. You boot it up, you hear the punk-rock riffs kick in, and you’re instantly whisked back to that halcyon era of backward hats and one-strap backpacks. But here’s the thing: Despite the shiny new coat of paint, this redux is uncannily faithful and immediately familiar. If you played the 1999 or 2000 originals, you’ll get right back to busting out 900s, flicking double impossibles into noseslides, and stringing together manual combos that would make Rodney Mullen maybe — just maybe — break a sweat in the real world. Speaking of Mullen, he and the other playable pros from the originals are rendered in-game with their current visages. THPS1+2 is solid evidence that, yes, what is old can be new again.

A Good Match For: Anyone who played video games between 1999 and 2004. Nostalgia.

Not A Good Match For: Fans of Skate, Skater XL, Session, or other realistic skateboarding games.

Read our review.

Learn how to bust out a gazillion-point combo.

Screenshot: Rockstar Games Screenshot: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2

From tip to tail, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a profound, glorious downer. It is the rare blockbuster video game that seeks to move players not through empowering gameplay and jubilant heroics, but by relentlessly forcing them to confront decay and despair. It has no heroes, only flawed men and women fighting viciously to survive in a world that seems destined to destroy them. It is both an exhilarating glimpse into the future of entertainment and a stubborn torch bearer for an old-fashioned kind of video game design. It is a lot, and also, it is a whole, whole lot.

A Good Match For: Cowboys, open-world connoisseurs, history buffs, and lapsed game-playing persons lured by a game whose atmosphere strikingly mimics many masterpieces of film and literature.

Not A Good Match For: Those averse to open worlds, because this sure is the open-worldest of all possible open worlds. Also, Sonic the Hedgehog fans need not apply (your cowpoke’s walking speed is the exact opposite of going fast).

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Screenshot: Moon Studios Screenshot: Moon Studios

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Blind Forest was a stellar platformer, but it wasn’t exactly approachable. Tough levels were made even more challenging by a punishing save system: You’d have to spend hard-earned energy to create checkpoints. This year’s excellent follow-up, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, does away with all that in favour of a more streamlined experience. It’ll still throw you through the ringer, but you won’t find yourself retreading the same ground over and over again — there’s a forgiving autosave system in this one. And that’s not the only modernisation: there’s also a hub area, an actual arsenal, and an entire cast of supporting magical forest creatures. Best of all, the soundtrack is worth playing on repeat, and any single frame of the game belongs in a museum.

A Good Match For: People who enjoy Metroidvanias, tough platformers, or Studio Ghibli films

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who’s out of Kleenex (this game’s a tear-jerker)

Read our review.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Screenshot: I/O Interactive Screenshot: I/O Interactive

Hitman 2

Hitman 2 follows the same basic structure as 2016’s Hitman, and in fact contains the original game with some graphical and gameplay updates. Cloned killer Agent 47 jet-sets to locations around the globe on the trail of a shadowy, powerful figure, assassinating other shadowy, powerful figures along the way. The plot is sprawling and can be hard to follow, but it’s all just a basic framing for the game’s essentials: sneaking around in third-person, playing dress-up, and murdering people. Levels are huge and varied, and even a brisk trip through them reveals almost too many ways to take out your targets. Hitman 2 feels best when when you use people’s routines and passions against them because you were patient enough to learn them. Hitman 2 gives players more opportunities to do this than ever; it’s a more ambitious game than the previous Hitman while still staying true to the series’ murderous essentials.

A Good Match For: Fans of the series. People who like methodical stealth gameplay. Anyone who wishes they could effortlessly look great in any pair of pants.

Not A Good Match For: The impatient players who want action; Agent 47 can’t last long in a firefight, and avoiding conflict is usually your best bet.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Screenshot: Platinum Games Screenshot: Platinum Games

Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata will probably surprise you. It starts out as a fast-moving action game in the vein of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, telling a story about hot robots exploring a ravaged future earth. And until the first time the credits roll, that’s what it remains. Keep playing, though, and Nier will begin to open up and transform. It shifts viewpoints and twists inside of itself, eventually unfolding in a spiral of revelations that crescendos all the way to the grand finale(s). Yes, you must “finish” Nier: Automata five times to get the complete story. But like the rest of this fantastic game, that doesn’t mean what you think it means.

A Good Match For: Fans of narrative mindfucks like the first Nier or the Metal Gear Solid games. People looking for something ambitious and unapologetically weird.

Not A Good Match For: People who like their game stories straightforward. Anyone who doesn’t like beat-em-ups or shoot-em-ups.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Screenshot: Respawn Entertainment Screenshot: Respawn Entertainment

Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 gave us what we were expecting — more of its trademark fleet-footed, giant robot-enhanced competitive multiplayer. It also gave us an unexpectedly fantastic single-player story campaign, and that’s really what sets it apart. What could’ve been a series of botmatches or boring corridor shootouts instead was an uncommonly well-designed hybrid of platforming and action movie gymnastics. The spirits of Valve and Nintendo are alive and well at Respawn Entertainment, evidently.

A Good Match For: Fans of shooters, robots, wall-running, grappling hooks, and tight narratives.

Not A Good Match For: Those prone to motion sickness.

Read our review, and a breakdown of the best level.

Watch it in action.

Screenshot: Rare Screenshot: Rare

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves started poorly. Server troubles and hacker-filled waters made it difficult to enjoy, but pressing on with a group of friends revealed a promising game that wasn’t quite there yet. Slowly, the waters became less rocky as free content updates brought giant shark battles and new regions to explore. The Anniversary Update pushes Sea of Thieves into its best form yet. There’s the usual hijinks with pals, but there’s also a full-fledged story mission with fantastic tombs to explore as well as a hectic player versus player arena. If that’s too much, you can just fish by your lonesome or set sail with your crew and see what happens. There was always potential here, and Rare’s put the hard work into making Sea of Thieves life up to the promise of high-seas excitement. There’s no other game quite like it, and anyone looking for a different type of multiplayer adventure would do well to leap in. Maybe you’ll get blown up by a rival crew, maybe you’ll haul a big score of treasure. No matter what, you’ll have a unique story by the end of the day.

A Good Match For: Pirate enthusiasts, people in desperate need of a beach vacation, jerkfaces, Discord pals, and anyone looking for a change of pace.

Not A Good Match For: Solo players (although some disagree), folks who hate losing all their stuff when someone sinks their ship, or anyone who wants a deep story.

Read our initial review.

Watch it in action.

Screenshot: Playground Games Screenshot: Playground Games

Forza Horizon 4

Just as there must always be a Stark at Winterfell, there must always (apparently) be a Forza: Horizon game on our list of the best Xbox One games. Forza Horizon 4 uses the same winning formula that has worked so well for every preceding game in the series, spicing things up further with a ton of new cars and, most notably, weather that shifts with the seasons. It is, to paraphrase a wise man, “The Rolex watch of Hot Wheels playsets,” a game that looks amazing, feels wonderful to play, and will remind car-lovers everywhere why they love cars.

A Good Match For: Car lovers. Driving enthusiasts. Those who like seeing immaculately rendered video game weather.

Not A Good Match For: Those who haven’t enjoyed previous Horizon games. Anyone who prefers open-world games that let you get out of your car and walk around. People hoping to see Toyota cars in a racing game.

Watch it in action and hear our impressions of the game in the same video.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red Screenshot: CD Projekt Red

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

There’s no shortage of ambition in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt of Rivia’s latest adventure is massive, a world you can get lost in for hours and still have plenty to do. And while many games these days have sprawling landscapes, The Witcher 3 is utterly dense. Every nook and cranny is filled with memorable characters, clever writing, and rewards for curious players. The main story is as thrilling as it is emotionally draining, and, get this, the side quests are actually worth doing! Best of all? You don’t need to have played a Witcher game to enjoy the heck out of the third.

A Good Match For: Open-world fans, especially those who enjoyed Skyrim but were disappointed by the combat. In The Witcher 3, fighting is nearly as enjoyable as exploration.

Not a Good Match For: People who value their time and social life, or those who prefer their games hyper-polished without any framerate drops or other nagging technical flaws.

Read our review, and thoughts on the game’s (excellent) free DLC.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game, and catch up on The Witcher lore.

Purchase From: Amazon | Walmart | Best Buy | GameStop | Digital

Screenshot: Ubisoft Screenshot: Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes all the role-playing-game elements introduced in last year’s Origins and expands on them significantly, adding a ton of fun new unlockable skills that will force players to actually focus on their gear and character builds. It also introduces a choice of male or female protagonists, as well as a branching dialogue system reminiscent of games like Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. Quests can have wildly different outcomes based on your decisions. It’s an entertaining tour of ancient Greece filled with adventure, romance, and more than a little myth. Just remember that whatever you choose to do, you’ll probably have to justify your choices to Socrates at some point.

A Good Match For: Action-RPG fans. Those who like games that mix stealth and combat. Lovers of Greek history and mythology.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for a more traditional stealth-based experience along the lines of earlier Assassin’s Creed games. People who are afraid of eagles.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Screenshot: Mobius Digital Screenshot: Mobius Digital

Outer Wilds

“Be curious on your journey!” proclaims one of the characters in Outer Wilds. No line could sum it up better. At the onset, your silent alien hero is given a rickety spaceship and sent off to explore the universe with a single goal: Go on an adventure. Roughly 20 minutes later, the universe explodes, and you wake up on your home planet as if nothing ever happened. Soon you’ll find yourself ticking off goals and jotting down questions: Why is the universe exploding? How did that ancient alien race go extinct? What’s up with that planet that keeps disappearing when you try to land on it? And is it possible to save the universe? Outer Wilds mixes the exploration of Metroid with the time loop of Majora’s Mask to brilliant effect, and it culminates in one of the most satisfying endings we’ve ever seen in a video game.

A Good Match For: Curious gamers. Anyone who loves the idea of getting into a space ship and exploring the cosmos.

Not a Good Match For: Impatient people, or those who need combat in their games. Anyone who can’t stand finicky controls.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Listen to our podcast discussing tips for starting the game.

Purchase From: Available digitally on the Microsoft store.

Screenshot: Capcom Screenshot: Capcom

Monster Hunter: World

For years, the best way to understand why so many people love Monster Hunter games was to play one on a mobile device. With Monster Hunter: World, everything that makes Capcom’s long-running series so great is finally playable on a modern, big-screen gaming system. World takes advantage of that screen real estate, and the massive beasts you’ll fight look just as fearsome as you’d expect. World may be the most approachable Monster Hunter game yet, but it’s still a complex, rewarding game that you can play for hundreds of hours without running out of things to do. It’s fun to play solo, fun to play with friends, and basically just really fun.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a thick, complicated game. Those who like Dark Souls-style combat against huge enemies. People who’ve been intrigued by Monster Hunter and looking for a way to get into the series.

Not A Good Match For: Those who want a game that’s straightforward and easy to get into. Vegetarians.

Read our review.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Watch it in action.

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 9/15/2020: We’ve added Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 because Return of the Obra Dinn couldn’t do a kickflip.

Update 3/30/20: We’ve poured out Cuphead and added Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

Update 12/26/19: The final update of the decade! Long-tenured 2016 entries The Witness and Overwatch have finally been retired, making way for Return of the Obra Dinn and Outer Wilds.

Update 5/21/2019: We’ve added Hitman 2, Nier: Automata, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Sea of Thieves, and removed Hitman, Fortnite Battle Royale, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and XCOM 2.

Update 11/12/2018: We’ve added Forza Horizon 4 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and taken off Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3.

Update 4/30/2018: We’ve added Monster Hunter: World and Fortnite Battle Royale while taking off Resident Evil 7 and Inside.

Update 10/20/2017: We’ve added Cuphead and XCOM 2 and taken off Dark Souls 3 and Grand Theft Auto V.

Update 6/7/2017: We’ve added Gears of War 4 and taken off Destiny, which Bungie has been winding down in anticipation of the sequel later this year.

Update 2/24/2017: We’ve added Resident Evil 7 and taken off Diablo 3.

Update 12/21/2016: We’ve added Titanfall 2 and Hitman while cutting Ori and the Blind Forest and Metal Gear Solid V.

Update: 10/28/2016: We’ve cut Sunset Overdrive and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and added Forza Horizon 3 and The Witness.

Update 7/21/2016: Goodbye to Batman: Arkham Knight and Forza Horizon 2; hello to Overwatch and Inside.

Update 2/27/2016: Fallout 4 and Dying Light come off the list, while Dark Souls 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider make it on.

Update 11/26/2015: Fallout 4 and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate make their way onto the list, edging out Dragon Age: Inquisition and Assassin’s Creed IV. We’re still keeping an eye on Halo 5’s to see if it’ll earn it a spot on the strength of its multiplayer.

Update: 10/15/2015: We’ve added Metal Gear Solid V to the list and taken off Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. We’ve also updated our entry for Destiny to account for the Taken King expansion and cleared out old comments to make room for new ones.

Update 7/16/2015: These swaps are getting harder. After much deliberation we cut Wolfenstein: The New Order, despite our affection for the surprisingly good story-driven first-person shooter. We’re also saying goodbye to another over-achiever, Shadows of Mordor, whose best trick, the Nemesis System, isn’t enough to keep it on our ever more competitive top 12.

Update 5/5/2015: We’ve taken off Super Time Force, The LEGO Movie Video game, and Rayman Legends to make room for Dying Light, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. Nearly half of the games on this list now begin with “D.” Mission accomplished.

Update 11/25/2014: Three new games make their way onto the list: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Grand Theft Auto V and Sunset Overdrive edge out Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3 and Titanfall.

Update 10/17/2014: We’ve cleared out Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, and Need For Speed: Rivals to make room for Destiny, Forza Horizon 2, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Update 8/29/14: Strider hops out of the way to clear space for Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition.

Update 6/17/2014: The list continues to mature, as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Peggle 2 leave to make room for Wolfenstein: The New Order and Super Time Force.

Update 4/17/2014: Three games enter, two games leave. Our list hits its limit of 12 games, with Titanfall, The LEGO Movie Video game and Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes walking on while Powerstar Golf and LEGO Marvel Superheroes exit.

Update 3/10/2014: Four games walk on to the list: Rayman Legends, Strider, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare and the newly multiplayer’d Peggle 2 bring our grand total of games up to eleven. One more and we’ll be at twelve, and will have to start cutting games to make additions.

Update 2/14/2014: Our first addition to the Xbox One Bests list is the lovely-looking Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. Go, Lara, Go.

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC Games • The Best PS4 GamesThe Best Games On PlayStation Now • The Best Xbox One Games • The Best Games On Xbox Game Pass • The Best Nintendo Switch Games • The Best Wii U Games • The Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 Games • The Best Wii Games • The Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP Games • The Best Facebook Games • The Best DS Games • The Best Mac Games

Note: While some games on this list are download-only, all of them can be purchased on the Xbox One’s online store. If you buy any of these games through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.

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