The Best Games For The Xbox Series X And S

The Best Games For The Xbox Series X And S
Illustration: Angelica Alzona
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A new console generation usually means a new library of games. That’s not exactly the case with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, at least not yet. So far, there are few true next-gen exclusives. Instead, Xbox games are often released in both last-gen and next-gen versions.

Meanwhile, a handful of legacy Xbox One titles have received “optimized” versions for the Series X and S. (In other words: sharper resolutions and higher framerates.) Amid the 30 or so “optimized” games, there are some true gems. Though you can technically play all of them elsewhere, they perform notably better on these new consoles.

Yes, the Xbox Series X and S are basically souped-up Xbox Ones, which means you’ll rarely be pressed for awesome games to play. A good rule of thumb is this: If it was playable on the Xbox One, it’s playable on the Xbox Series X and S. (To that end, here’s our list of the best games for the Xbox One.) There’s also the matter of a little service called Game Pass. For $15.95 a month you can access a library of more than 100 Xbox games, including first-party exclusives and a rotating slew of third-party hits. (Hey, look, here’s our list of the best games on Game Pass.)

With all that in mind, here are the best Xbox Series X / S games.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

square enix e3 xbox
Image: Square Enix

Life is Strange: True Colours

Life is Strange: True Colours is the first in the series of adventure games to release as a whole batch rather than episodically. You play as Alex Chen, a mind-reader who’s accepted an offer from her estranged brother to move to a painfully twee town in the Rockies. Make no mistake. This is still a Life is Strange game, with all that entails. (In an early cinematic, as mellow acoustic music plays while Alex ponders her thoughts on a bridge, the camera methodically pans over shots of flowers and other natural imagery.) And the game can be a gut punch at points. But man, when it’s at the height of its powers, the Life is Strange formula hits the spot.

A Good Match For: Fans of choice-based adventure games and complex dialogue trees. Indie musicians (and their labels).

Not A Good Match For: Life is Strange fans who enjoyed the parcelled-out nature of episode releases.

Read our review.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store

guardians of the galaxy cheap gaming deal xbox
Image: Square Enix

Guardians of the Galaxy

You may think Guardians of the Galaxy is just another slickly produced action game based on a popular superhero franchise, but you’d be about as far from the truth as possible. The action, believe it or not, is actually…fine. At best. You’re really here for the razor-sharp writing, which manifests in supremely well-directed cinematics, yes, but also in the margins: Every battle, every puzzle, every stroll through an eye-popping alien environment is punctuated by quips and banter. Over the course of its 16 chapters, which take you through a rollercoaster of twists, you’ll come to feel like you’re the honorary sixth Gardener of the Galaxy (to steal a quip from some of the funnier NPCs).

A Good Match For: Marvel superfans (GotG presents a take on the characters wholly different from the films or comics).

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who plays games purely for the running and jumping and punching and skill-point-allotting. Chris Pratt. Adam Jensen.

Read our review.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Kogan | Dick Smith | JB Hi-Fi

racing wheels xbox
Image: Playground Games

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is a riotous racing game on any platform but an absolutely stunning next-gen showcase. If you’re at all invested in the never-ending fidelity horserace, you’ll want to play on Xbox Series X, where its fictional rendition of Mexico is eye-popping at every turn. The game itself is quite fun, too, of course. An open-world map packed with objectives, plus some 500-odd vehicles—all fine-tuned to the degree they feel unique—keeps things consistently fresh. But Forza Horizon 5’s secret sauce is a focus on relentless positivity, which makes you feel like you’re always winning, even when you’re not.

A Good Match For: Fans of fast cars, breezy racing games, and…The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Sure!

Not A Good Match For: Anyone seeking a real-world-accurate simulation experience.

Read our review.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Big W | Dick Smith

halo infinite cheapest copies xbox
Image: 343 Industries

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite is having a moment. Its multiplayer portion, which is free-to-play, started off strong and has only improved in the months since, with a steady drip of new modes and seasonal events. The campaign, meanwhile, is somehow both a continuation of the newer games and a return to form to the glorious original trilogy. (You play as the stalwart series protagonist Master Chief the whole time.) Halo Infinite is also the first series entry to feature something resembling an open world, though it’s a totally manageable one, opting for a feasible slew of bespoke objectives over a mind-numbing spreadsheet of cookie-cutter collectathons. The plot’s pretty moving, too—if you’re steeped in Halo’s story, at least.

A Good Match For: Fans of arena shooters and sweeping sci-fi epics.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who wants to play co-op Halo, a battle royale, or an open-world game packed with Ubisoft-level swathes of objectives. The plot and characters of Halo 5: Guardians.

Read our review.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Big W | Dick Smith

Screenshot: IO InteractiveScreenshot: IO Interactive

Hitman 3

For a slow game, Hitman 3 moves fast. You, as international superspy Agent 47, are tasked with eliminating various high-profile targets on expansive, open-ended levels. Like the previous two Hitman games — and every spy movie, ever — these levels span the globe: Dubai, Dartmoor, Berlin, Chongqing, Mendoza, and the snowy Romanian backcountry. (You can also import owned levels from the previous entry into Hitman 3.)

Rather than duck-and-cover shootouts, as you’d find in many other third-person games, Hitman 3 is about scanning your environment, discerning clues, learning about your targets, and, of course, knocking out poor civilians and stealing their outfits. You may have a gun, but the shooting mechanics aren’t nearly on par with, say Uncharted. In nearly every instance, you’re better suited playing stealthily. The result is a breathlessly tense game of cat and mouse — even in moments when you’re slowly strolling through a packed dance floor.

A Good Match For: Fans of stealth, puzzles, travel, terrific fashion, and playing the same level ad infinitum to nail down a more creative solution.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a tight third-person shooter.

Read our review.

Find all* of the bananas.

Purchase From: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: MicrosoftScreenshot: Microsoft

Gears 5

You probably know what to expect from Gears 5. Like every Gears of War game before it, save for the excellent Gears Tactics (see below), it’s a cover-based, third-person shooter starring people with frighteningly large biceps. For the launch of the Xbox Series X and S, Gears 5 received a makeover, buffing the visuals and generally improving performance across the board. Those with compatible displays can now run the game at 120fps, and it’s safe to say that Gears 5 is one of the best-looking games on console right now. In early December, the game received the meaty Hivebusters expansion, which members of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate are able to snag for no extra cost. Starring three characters from outside the main cast, and featuring some innovative combat abilities — including one that restores your ammo — Hivebusters brings a fresh take to an old game. Gears 5 may have released in 2019, but it feels newer than ever.

A Good Match For: Fans of third-person shooters. Anyone who enjoyed Gears 5 the first time around, in its less resplendent state.

Not A Good Match For: Players who’ve had enough of Gears. Series newcomers who aren’t willing to at least parse the game’s Wiki beforehand.

Read our review, and our impressions of the Hivebusters expansion.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: UbisoftScreenshot: Ubisoft

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Don’t be fooled by its patently ridiculous name. Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the best open-world action-RPGs available on the new Xbox consoles. Published by Ubisoft, Immortals casts you as Fenyx, a fictional Greek warrior stranded by shipwreck on the fictional Golden Isle. Everyone on the island has been turned to stone, the Olympian deities are cleaved from their powers, and Typhon, the all-powerful monster of myth, is let loose from his deathless prison. It’s up to you to fix it all. Like plenty of other games, Immortals lifts a whole lot from the Greek mytheme. The moment-to-moment sword-swinging might seem familiar, too — especially to anyone who’s played a Ubisoft game in the past decade — but it’s punctuated by an astonishing array of physics-based environmental puzzles that wouldn’t be out of place in Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild. Immortals doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it combines disparate elements from other definitive games to leave a lasting impression.

A Good Match For: Fans of recent Assassin’s Creed games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hades, and Adam Jensen (Elias Toufexis, the gravelly voice actor behind Deus Ex’s chiselled lead, is one of Fenyx Rising’s constant narrators).

Not A Good Match For: Anyone sick of open-world games and games based on Greek mythology.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: BungieScreenshot: Bungie

Destiny 2

Yes, Destiny 2 has been around the block, but it’s still got a spring in its step. Thanks to an early December next-gen optimisation, it’s one of the tightest first-person shooters on the Xbox Series X and S. The annual expansion, Beyond Light, introduced players to a whole new region (the snowy wastes of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons) and further refined the compulsive nature of that loot grind. The shooting is still as tight as ever. And those with top-shelf displays can run Crucible, Destiny 2’s PVP mode, at 120fps, which rules for them. (Like Gears 5, the enhanced Destiny 2 is a real looker.) But the major, undeniable sell for Destiny 2 on Xbox is how easy it is to pick up and play. In November, Destiny 2: Beyond Light joined the Xbox Game Pass library. And those who’ve played on other platforms can easily carry their characters over.

A Good Match For: Fans of first-person shooters, loot grinds, in-game lore text, deliciously pulpy sci-fi, and a never-ending stream of satisfying headshots.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a comprehensible story, or a competitive mode as tight as, say, Halo 3.

Read our review of Beyond Light.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store

Screenshot: Moon StudiosScreenshot: Moon Studios

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps was already one of the best platformers of 2020. Following a launch-day update for the Xbox Series X and S, it’s even better, and includes video settings that support supersampled 6K resolution at 60 fps. (If you have a fancy enough screen, the game can run in 4K at 120 frames per second.) The biggest knock against Ori and the Will of the Wisps was that, at launch, it was marred by some performance issues: lockups, screen stutters, things of that nature. All such issues are wholly eliminated on the Series X. Ori now leaps through the whimsical magic-forest of Niwen with the precision and dexterity of an Olympic gymnast. Menus and combat are smooth as butter, as are character animations. In short, one of 2020’s best platformers is officially one of its best-performing ones, too.

A Good Match For: Fans of airtight platforming, Studio Ghibli-like art direction, and whimsical forest spirits.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for an easy game. Big criers.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: Ubisoft / KotakuScreenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Round any corner in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and you’ll stumble upon something fascinating. Despite the game’s staggering size, you won’t find any traditional, cookie-cutter side-quests. Rather, Valhalla’s open-world take on 9th-century England and Norway is dotted with brief activities called World Events. They’re all bespoke, and vary from platforming challenges to environmental puzzles to brief, narrative vignettes. The narrative structure, too, consistently surprises. Alongside an overarching story, each one of the map’s dozen or so regions has its own self-contained set of missions. But recurrent characters pop up, giving you the feeling that you’re playing through (very murder-happy) seasons of a TV show. Combine all that with the RPG elements that made the more recent series entries (Origins and Odyssey) so awesome and you have a standout game. Oh yeah, and the hidden blade is back.

A Good Match For: Fans of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Renaissance Faire attendees. Anyone with 1,645 hours to burn.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who has a fear of consequences; the choices you make in the main story will bite you in unexpected, Witcher-y ways.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: EnhanceScreenshot: Enhance

Tetris Effect: Connected

Here’s the pitch: Tetris, but with friends. And EDM. And an incandescent light show constructed from some of the snazziest particle effects in gaming. Yes, Tetris Effect: Connected is an audiovisual delight, one that packs even more punch since we’re not allowed to go to raves in 2020. As for how it plays, the foundation remains unchanged from Alexey Pajitnov’s 1984 original. But there are plenty of modal twists and reworks. The best is a multiplayer mode, called “Connected,” wherein you and two other players team up to “fight” against a series of bosses, who flip the script in unexpected ways. (Maybe you’ll have your board inverted, or you’ll find a super-sized brick in your queue.) After a minute or so, the music drops, your three boards fuse together as one, and you take turns placing pieces wherever you want — with the goal of clearing triple-wide lines — before reverting to your own solo space. It breathes new life into the most quintessential classic, all while paying homage to what made the original so enduringly special in the first place.

A Good Match For: Fans of covers that sound like brand-new songs but retain the same tune. Anyone who’s spent hours playing Tetris on a smartphone and craves a bigger screen.

Not A Good Match For: Those with photosensitivity issues; the game warns you up front that the game could “trigger dizzy spells or epileptic seizures in a small percentage of people.”

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store

Screenshot: The CoalitionScreenshot: The Coalition

Gears Tactics

You know Gears of War as the brawniest Xbox series, but it’s also one of the brainiest ones. Gears Tactics, which first released on PC before receiving a console release alongside the Xbox Series X and S, trades cover-based third-person shooting for cover-based third-person tactics. Set before the events of the main series, you command Gabe Diaz (the father of Gears 5 protagonist Kate Diaz) and a small contingent of frighteningly muscular soldiers in XCOM-style tactical combat against foot soldiers of the Locust horde. Each unit falls under a different class, and each class has a robust skill tree, allowing you to customise your Gears’ talents beyond just “shoot real good and punch real hard.” Masochists will be thrilled to hear about a relentlessly punishing mode, Ironman, which prevents any back-tracking.

A Good Match For: Fans of chess or XCOM. Sentient protein shakes.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone seeking a third-person shooter; just go play the excellent Gears 5 instead, which has also been revamped for Xbox Series X and S.

Read our review, and our impressions of the console port.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

Screenshot: SegaScreenshot: Sega

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon isn’t the best Yakuza game you can get. It is, however, maybe the best you can get on the Xbox Series X and S, since it’s the first to have been released with next-gen systems in mind, and is also the perfect place to start with the series if you’ve somehow never played one before and were put off by previous games’ reliance on real-time brawling. This one replaces that action gameplay with JRPG-style turn-based combat, which results in a far more chilled experience — or as chilled as kicking bikes into people’s faces before crushing them with a giant vibrator can be.

A Good Match For: Yakuza fans, Yakuza newcomers, and anyone in between.

Not A Good Match For: The time-crunched; this is one massive game.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon

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

The Best PS5 GamesThe Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Games On PS NowThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Games On Xbox Game PassThe 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 Games

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

Latest update: Gone is the 12-game limit! We’ve removed Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Though it’s terrific, Halo Infinite is clearly the place to play Halo right now, so that game joins alongside Forza Horizon 5Guardians of the Galaxy, and Life is Strange: True Colours as new additions to our current list of 13.

Update 13/07/2021: We’re closing in on that 12 game limit for the best Xbox Series X and S games! Agent 47 hit the mark in Hitman 3.

Update 25/12/2020: The recent add-ons and next-gen optimizations of Destiny 2 and Gears 5 make both old games feel brand-new and worthy of inclusion. We’ve also immortalised Immortals Fenyx Rising.

Comments

  • If you’ve got game pass and want to show off your new Xbox Series X, Forza Horizon 4 is absolutely stunning!

  • Their old games library is dank as well. Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Viva Pinata 1&2, Burnout 4, etc. If you missed them when they originally came out, they’re worth a look.

  • I decided to have a crack at Yakuza: Like a dragon, and it’s interesting, I really want to see out the story line, but it’s so slow.

    I played about 4 hours, probably 3 1/2 of that was cut scenes, a couple of random fights and the rest was just walking from place to place. Oh, and I did play the in-game video games, particularly Virtua Fighter 5.

    I’m not sure if I’ll go back to it.

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