So you haven’t picked up an Xbox Series X yet. Join the club—I’m still hoping to get my hands on one myself! Luckily, you don’t really need the swanky new Microsoft box to enjoy the glory of Xbox gaming. In fact, since the Series X launch was, to put it lightly, pretty limited, there’s almost no reason to dish out half a thousand bucks for new console. You can play all the best games right there on your Xbox One!
Although the Xbox One likely won’t go down as the heavyweight champion of its generation (sorry Microsoft, but only one console had The Last of Us Part II), the white-and-black rectangle turned out to be a pretty great breeding ground both for indie developers and older titles, especially with Xbox’s fantastic Game Pass subscription service. Here, we’re highlighting the best games of the Xbox One’s generation that you can (and should) play right now.
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Eternal wasn’t a Microsoft exclusive, but it shreds so hard that it deserves a spot on any best-of list for any console it appeared on. Released in 2020, this old-fashioned first-person shooter brought a lot of street cred back to the boring genre that’s been thoroughly hollowed-out by Call of Duty-type online shooters, which seem to rely so heavily on online play that the single-player campaign becomes an afterthought. Eternal, though, is all about that single player experience. And though the story is anything but deep, you will cry tears of joy as you relive those golden old FPS games of your childhood, when ripping and tearing through waves of bad guys was your life’s only purpose.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Nintendo has been steadily crushing it in the indie game department for the past few years. But Microsoft is by no means a stranger to independent developers. In fact, it’s so friendly to small outfits that it seems like it’ll buy up a new one every day. Inventive franchises like Ori represent the fruits of that labor. After the popular Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015, the colorful little side-scrolling RPG made a big comeback. Side-scrollers, man. They never go out of style.
Sea of Thieves
I’d love to see the numbers on how many console gamers purchased an Xbox just to play Sea of Thieves. There was a period of months when it seemed all of my friends—the bulk of them being PlayStationers—briefly abandoned their beloved PS4s to voyage out into the pirate-infested waters of Sea of Thieves. And it made sense, as Rare’s multiplayer nautical adventure was a total return to form for the studio.
Ah, Cuphead. The only game so stressful that you can get a hemorrhoid from fighting an anthropomorphized trombone that shoots music notes. This lovingly—painstakingly—hand-drawn sidescroller is hard as hell, and won a lot of attention when it debuted as an Xbox (and Microsoft Windows) exclusive back in 2017. It may be modeled after old-school animation styles, but its super-difficult gameplay feels anything but dated. The game became so popular that it even spawned a Netflix series, a Smash Bros. skin, Arby’s toys, and is even partly playable on Elon Musk’s Tesla cars. Awoooga!
Remedy, the studio that brought us games like Alan Wake and Quantum Break, showed up in a big way in 2019 with Control, a third-person shooter set inside what resembles an office building teetering on the edge of hell itself. The title was a favorite on many consoles when it debuted, and it still kicks ass more than a year later, especially with all the DLC expansions that have been released since then—one of which, by the way, features the return of Alan Wake himself.
Forza Horizon 4
For the gear-heads among us, Forza is about as good as it gets. Fh4, which was a Microsoft exclusive, pushed the dial on the racing genre by introducing co-op and a blisteringly clear 60 frames per second mode. It dropped back in 2018 but still remains strikingly relevant today, with enhanced versions available on the Series X (which runs the game in 4K resolution and 60 frames per second—wow).
Oh man, did this game arrive with some silly memories. Created by Rare in the ’90s, the ‘Toads were a clear ripoff of the mega-popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. In some versions, Battletoads was ultra violent, with blood, spikes, guts, and for some reason, extra cleavage. Most of us remember these games for how fucking annoying and unbeatable they were. For whatever reason, they’re back! This time, the ‘Toads (who are named after skin blemishes like Pimple, Zitz, and Rash) have a cartoony look. I kind of miss the chunky, old-school graphics, but it seems like Microsoft has its head in the right place with this remake.
After Halo, Microsoft found its second-best shooter franchise with Gears of War, the game where your guns sometimes have chainsaws on them. Picking up shortly after the events of Gears 4, the 2019 title was praised for its single player campaign and the open-world exploration elements. Sure, the over-the-top brutality ain’t for everyone. But if you love explosions of blood, Gears 5 should definitely whet your whistle. And hey, they even put the Terminator in the game (and wrestler Dave Bautista, too!).
Minecraft! It’s everywhere! The game is basically a cultural institution at this point. For kids today, it’s likely the first game they’ll ever play—and they’ll log more hours into the vast, world-building sandbox (which is the best-selling video game of all time) than any other title in their collection. With humble origins dated back to a web-based Java game by developer Markus “Notch” Persson, Mojang’s massively popular game was purchased by Microsoft in 2014 for a whopping $2.4 billion. Today, the game can be played on just about anything, but it feels right at home on its parent company’s big console, the Xbox One.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Witcher games, especially now, with the success of Netflix’s hit adaptation series, are getting more popular than ever. The Witcher 3 is routinely referred to as the best of the franchise, and is among the most decorated games in CD Projekt Red’s whole catalog. With its 4K HDR capabilities, the role-playing game looks dang good on the Xbox One.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
The ultimate Dad game became a grandfather this year. Flight Simulator—you know, that series that dads obsessed over all through the ‘90s and early 2000s—received a sequel on PC, and will likely hit Xbox consoles, too. It’s hard to explain why, but it actually feels right. 2020 would be the year we get a new Flight Simulator. This one looks pretty insane. Somehow, the bulk of the modern world is mapped, so if you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re flying a plane for real, this is the closest you’re probably ever going to get. I can imagine that dads all around the world will be buying Xbox consoles for this one.
CODE RED!! THIS GAME HAS KEANU REEVES. Just when you thought the industry could not get any more exciting, Keanu Reeves stepped onstage at the E3 gaming conference in 2019 and surprised everyone. He’s not just in the game—he’s in it a lot. The technofuturistic open world of Cyberpunk may be the most highly anticipated (and most closely scrutinized) release of 2020, with opinions flying in as it rolls out.
Release Date: TBA 2020
Okay, this game looks a lot like Zelda. A lot. The main character is a furry fox in a green tunic, there are treasure chests, dungeons, items, an isometric camera, everything’s covered in greenery and ancient stone shit—it’s almost as if someone over at Microsoft was like, “Hey, instead of competing with Nintendo, why not just be Nintendo?” Perhaps that’s a bit reductive. But it really looks like this Xbox One exclusive wants us to notice that it’s aping Zelda. And you know what? Maybe that’s fine! I like Zelda! If I could play Link to the Past on an Xbox, I probably would!
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