Following up on the success of the Xbox 360 was never going to be easy, but the Xbox One has had a solid run since its launch in 2013.
From a troubled unveiling that forced Microsoft to backtrack on several of the console’s features – such as the Kinect camera requirement, the always-on internet connection, and restrictions on pre-owned games – to the Xbox One X’s innovations and the excellent Xbox Game Pass subscription service, the history of the Xbox One is a testament to how gaming has evolved over the last decade.
Of course, it always comes down to a console’s lineup of games in the end, and the Xbox One boasts some of the best current-gen titles, even if it ultimately lacks the jaw-dropping exclusives of its competitors. Still, you won’t go wrong getting the Xbox One games on this list…
Ori And The Blind Forest Definitive Edition
2016 | Moon Studios
Microsoft has long been a haven for indie titles and Ori And The Blind Forest is one of the very best indies to launch on the company’s consoles. Ori is an excellent 2D side-scroller that boasts a dreamlike atmosphere, rich music, and tight platforming. Add to that package the Metroidvania elements that make this a must-have for enthusiasts of that specific subgenre, especially if you love a beautiful art style to go along with your exploration and backtracking.
The original release of Ori And The Blind Forest was a fine game, of course, but the new areas included in the definitive edition make the experience even better. If you’re going to grab this one, definitely go with the updated version!
2015 | Techland
Dying Light isn’t the most original game. It borrows liberally from Techland’s zombie-filled Dead Island games and takes a good chunk of inspiration from the sillier Dead Rising series as well. Plus, the parkour mechanics are blatantly lifted from Mirror’s Edge. But combine those things together on a sprawling island setting full of structures to climb and jump off of, with seamless co-op and a deep weapon crafting system, and you have the recipe for one of the best open-world games of the current generation. If you love fast-paced, zombie-killing action, this is the one for you.
State Of Decay 2
2018 | Undead Labs
State Of Decay 2 is often cited as a shining example of how the Xbox One’s exclusives are inferior to those on other consoles. Personally, I think it’s one of the better zombie games out there, with an emphasis on scavenging and building a community over pure action.
And like most Xbox One exclusives, Microsoft has done a great job updating the game since release, with plenty of patches that improve stability as well as a couple of major expansions. The Heartland DLC expansion even allows players to return to the map of the first game and makes for one of the better story campaigns in any zombie adventure.
Monster Hunter: World
2018 | Capcom
The Monster Hunter franchise has been around for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until Monster Hunter: World that the notoriously hardcore Action RPG series broke through to the mainstream. Thanks to several tweaks to the UI, an improved map, and a graphical overhaul, this iteration of the series is the most accessible yet.
This is still a game that requires a sizable time commitment to take down the largest monsters and build the best equipment, so don’t expect Monster Hunter: World to be a walk in the park (or, in this case, the title’s lush, living ecosystems). But once you start to get the hang of this game’s particular loop – craft gear, take down monsters, craft better gear, take down bigger monsters, repeat – it becomes very addictive.
Forza Motorsport 7
2017 | Turn 10 Studios
While the Forza series never seems to get quite as much attention as Sony’s Gran Turismo games, Turn 10 has quietly spent the last decade or so making the finest racing simulators available. If you’ve followed Forza from the beginning, you know what to expect: hundreds of cars with fully explorable interiors, and dozens of gorgeous tracks (now finally in 4K).
The additions of loot boxes and mods were admittedly questionable design choices, but Turn 10 has since removed the loot boxes, and the game is as fun as ever, even if you don’t pay attention to the mods.
Halo 5: Guardians
2015 | 343 Industries
A polarizing release at best, Halo 5: Guardians is ultimately a game of peaks and valleys. The campaign is admittedly mediocre. It lacks the memorable set pieces of earlier games, and the decision to add Spartan Locke as a playable character is a weird doubling down on one of Halo 2’s more questionable design choices.
But for all the mistakes of the single-player campaign, Halo 5 makes up for it with what could be the series’ best multiplayer. 343 smartly abandoned the loadouts included in the previous title and emphasized aiming down sights, bringing the experience up to date with its contemporaries. The multiplayer remains a good reason to fire up Halo 5 occasionally, but hopefully Halo Infinite brings both modes together in a much better package.
2016 | id Software
It’s rare for a game with such a protracted development to be so universally acclaimed when it finally arrives. Development on Doom actually started around 2007 as a survival horror follow up to the divisive Doom 3. That version, known as Doom 4, might have turned out alright, but few gamers were pining for a true sequel to Doom 3. id Software wisely scrapped the earlier version of the game and went in a new direction with the 2016 reboot.
Doom takes everything that is so great about the first two games — the lightning-fast combat, the massive, hellish levels, and tons of secrets — and modernizes it with excellent graphics and the new “glory kills,” which consistently award the player with extra health for gruesome, up-close murder. This shooter remains a stunning highlight of the FPS genre on this generation of consoles.
2014 | Insomniac Games
Sunset Overdrive is a mix of so many awesome ideas from other great games, so it’s really sad that it didn’t find a larger audience. Combining traversal mechanics inspired by Jet Set Radio and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with crazy futuristic weapons from Insomniac’s own Ratchet & Clank series in an apocalyptic neon dystopia should have been the key to creating Xbox’s next great franchise. Alas, while reviews were positive, not many gamers still talk about this Insomniac passion project.
The studio’s hard work wasn’t all for nought though. Sunset Overdrive’s engine was used as the basis for the swinging mechanics in Marvel’s Spider-Man, which went on to find the massive fanbase that eluded Sunset Overdrive.
Devil May Cry 5
2019 | Capcom
The story is as convoluted as ever in the fifth Devil May Cry game, but it really doesn’t matter. The series has always been about stylish combat and slaying hundreds of horrific enemies. Devil May Cry 5 pleases with some cool new weapons, like Dante’s motorcycle chainsaw sword, and the enigmatic new playable character V, who uses his cane and demonic familiars to fight for him. The combat takes a lot of time to master, especially with the multiple difficulty levels and numerous unlockable abilities, but the fast-paced action will keep you coming back for more.
Devil May Cry 5 also showed that Capcom’s powerful new RE Engine can be used for more than just Resident Evil games. Plus, the hugely positive critical reception has given new life to a series that struggled to find an audience with Devil May Cry 4 and the questionable reboot. Expect many more Devil May Cry games down the line, thanks to this excellent instalment.
2017 | Bungie
Given how much criticism Bungie received for the first Destiny, it’s amazing how they made so many of the exact same mistakes with the launch of Destiny 2. Yes, the story and graphics were better than ever, but there just wasn’t much content, and the changes to weapon categories turned off a lot of players who loved the systems in the first game.
But just like with the original, Bungie has turned the ship around, adding a steady stream of content that has increased the level cap and overall amount of stuff to do. And for all of its troubles, Destiny 2 still has the best moment-to-moment gunplay of any other loot shooter out there.
To add to the good news, Bungie has also recently freed itself from publisher Activision, taking Destiny‘s…well, destiny into its own hands, making the title free-to-play and adopting a new Seasons release model for future DLC. Things are looking up for this fun shooter!
2017 | NetherRealm Studios
The first Injustice was an excellent DC fighting game, but the sequel might be the greatest fighting game of all time. NetherRealm somehow managed to cram a cast as diverse as Swamp Thing, Gorilla Grodd, and Dr. Fate into an excellent story mode, and the Multiverse Mode provides an endless amount of new challenges and gear to create personalized versions of each character. The fighting itself, with its comic book-inspired special moves and destructible environments, is incredibly solid, too.
As if that weren’t enough, NetherRealm also added Hellboy and all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the game as some of the best DLC fighters ever. Even NetherRealm’s own follow-up, Mortal Kombat 11, can’t eclipse the greatness of Injustice 2.
2016 | Remedy Entertainment
Quantum Break is probably the most ambitious Xbox One exclusive, thanks to its time manipulation abilities as well as its interactive television show, which fleshed out the stories of supporting characters in between gameplay sections (it was sort of odd). The time abilities actually fit in perfectly with the mind-bending time travel story though, and the ability to “freeze” bullets around enemies for extra damage never gets old, even if the episodes of the show do. The shooting itself is rock solid too, and the sci-fi-inspired enemies and environments boast impressive designs.
This action-adventure game is an absolute blast to play through, but the reason it probably continues to fly under the radar is its lack of replay value. Once you’re done, there’s little reason to go back, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts. But maybe skip over the TV episodes…
Forza Horizon 3
2016 | Playground Games
While not the latest Forza Horizon experience at this point, the third entry in the series stands on its own thanks to its emphasis on customizing events how you want to play them, tons of new off-road content, and a massive, beautiful map of Australia to explore at your leisure. And once you’re done with the dozens of races in the land down under, Forza Horizon 3 has some of the best DLC available, including the visually stunning Blizzard Mountain and the ridiculously over-the-top Hot Wheels expansion.
It can be hard to go back to earlier games in an iterative series like Forza Horizon, but there are just enough differences in the third game to warrant regular trips back to Australia, even after spending plenty of time with its sequel.
Dark Souls III
2016 | FromSoftware
Dark Souls III is actually one of the safer sequels in recent memories, but that’s probably for the best since Souls purists would have a fit if the combat changed too much or the game became too easy. With the first two titles in the series debuting on the previous generation of consoles, this was FromSoftware’s opportunity to shine with bigger levels and bosses on better hardware. Dark Souls III doesn’t disappoint, with arguably some of the best bosses out of all three games.
FromSoftware has moved on to other projects, such as the Souls-inspired Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Elder Ring, its upcoming collaboration with George R.R. Martin. If this really is the final Dark Souls game, at least the series went out on top.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
2014 | 343 Industries
While Halo 5 wasn’t the game that some Halo fans wanted, at least Microsoft delivered a fantastic collection featuring almost every major instalment in the series. The Master Chief Collection is easily one of the best collections ever made, with each game now running at 60 fps in 4K. And the campaign mode of Halo 2 has been completely updated from the ground up, with brand new graphics and cinematics (though the old graphics are just a button touch away, if you prefer them).
The Master Chief Collection infamously shipped with a broken multiplayer component that took years to completely fix, but 343 Industries finally got matchmaking to where it needs to be, and even added the underrated Halo 3: ODST expansion to the four campaigns included at launch. Halo: Reach is also being added to the collection as we speak!
2017 | StudioMDHR
There’s a very good reason why so few games even attempt to mimic the art style of 1930s cartoons: it’s not easy. Cuphead had a notoriously lengthy seven-year development cycle in order to nail the surreal art style for its many bosses and stages. With its pixel-perfect run-and-gun gameplay, Cuphead is like if early Disney cartoons travelled through time to make a beautiful baby with Contra. It’s the mashup we never knew we needed. While it’s no longer an Xbox One exclusive, Cuphead is still the must-have indie platformer to buy on the console.
Gears Of War 4
2016 | The Coalition
While Halo has struggled on the Xbox One, Microsoft’s other big shooter franchise has thrived, with a sequel set a quarter-century after the original trilogy focusing on the son of J.D. Fenix. Gears Of War 4’s campaign at once feels familiar, but the new enemies and the addition of chaotic windstorms mix things up just enough. The stakes may not be quite as high as the older games, but this is still a welcome trip back to Sera.
Gears Of War 4 also feels like the first time that the series’ notoriously unbalanced multiplayer has reached some level of parity, making it one of the better experiences on the Xbox One. If you’ve never experienced this series before, the fourth instalment is a pretty solid jumping-on point.
2015 | Bethesda Game Studios
After publishing two major Fallout and two Elder Scrolls games last generation, Bethesda pressed down on the brakes for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 era. Still, there’s so much content in Fallout 4 that it’s the only RPG you’ll need for quite some time.
The last two 3D Fallout games were so universally beloved that Bethesda mostly just added on to what worked and tweaked those games’ few shortcomings (namely the combat). The additions of crafting and managing settlements give Fallout 4 an even longer shelf life than its predecessors.
Resident Evil 2
2019 | Capcom
Developers take note: Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake is the proper way to redo games from the 32-bit era. The original title was great for its time, but the tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and rough graphics aged terribly. The remake might not have everything the original title had (the giant spiders are sorely missed), but it streamlines the story and perfectly mixes the faster-paced combat of later Resident Evil games with the survival horror tone of Leon and Claire’s original visit to Raccoon City.
Resident Evil 2 is the rare remake that not only tops its source material in every way but may even be the best game in the entire series. If Capcom wanted to remake the original Resident Evil or Nemesis with the same engine, I don’t think anyone would complain.
2016 | Blizzard Entertainment
Is Overwatch the best first-person shooter of all time? That’s debatable. But as long-running shooter franchises like Call Of Duty and Halo have struggled to stay relevant the past few years, Overwatch feels like the next step in the genre, eschewing weapon selection and modifications for unique heroes and their abilities. Even at release, Overwatch perfectly mixed the depth of a tournament shooter with the accessibility that a new gamer can enjoy.
But if the core gameplay got many gamers to pick up Overwatch in 2016, it’s the drip of new characters, maps, and modes that keep them coming back. Blizzard has consistently tweaked the game to keep it fair, and by instituting microtransactions only for cosmetic items, its kept players interested. This game won’t nickel-and-dime you like some of its competitors.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
2018 | Ubisoft
Assassin’s Creed may be the greatest comeback story of this generation. The first title in the series to debut on the Xbox One and PS4, Unity, was a technical mess that did little to advance the franchise and almost single-handedly destroyed the series. Critics and gamers savaged the title (even if updates did eventually improve it significantly). The series started to turn things around in 2017 with Origins, a soft reboot set in ancient Egypt, but Odyssey is arguably the first truly great Assassin’s Creed game since the second game way back in 2009.
First, the world of Ancient Greece is absolutely massive and brimming with stuff to do. And the options for how to play are ridiculous. You can choose your character’s gender, their gear, and, for the first time ever in the series, their dialogue options. Ubisoft took a risk turning Assassin’s Creed into an action-RPG, but so far the payoff has been huge, and the future is looking brighter than ever for the Assassin Order.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
2015 | Kojima Productions
While the Metal Gear Solid franchise has always been widely praised, its stealth gameplay has been hit-or-miss in previous entries, with many gamers finding the forced stealth sections annoying and unfulfilling. The Phantom Pain redefined what Metal Gear Solid could be with a large open world, and the option to pursue missions with as much or as little stealth as you want. And that meant all sorts of fun with emergent gameplay. Maybe you get lucky and take out an alerted guard before he notifies the rest of his squad. Or maybe the whole mission turns sideways and the only way out is a massive shootout.
As is mostly Metal Gear tradition, the story goes off the rails by the end, but it really doesn’t matter. Gameplay is king here. What’s all the more impressive is that as great as The Phantom Pain is, there was supposed to be more of it. Kojima managed to make one of the best games of all time while cutting content and being pushed out the door by Konami brass in a much-publicized breakup.
Ooh, also, if you’re a fan of stealth games… check out our recent feature about them!
Red Dead Redemption 2
2018 | Rockstar Studios
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a stunning accomplishment in interactive storytelling, with numerous interconnected systems that take hours to fully understand. It’s a perfect companion piece to the first game that’s easy to get lost in for hours. It’s also the closest you’ll probably get to living in the Wild West without actually going back in time. But it can also be slow, plodding, and kind of a chore to play at times.
While far from the perfect game that some would make it out to be, and still plagued by issues in terms of its online mode, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an impressive look at what a talented development team can do with nearly unlimited resources. Despite its shortcomings, it’s something that needs to be experienced just to see what the medium is capable of and to check out some of the best storytelling in video games.
Forza Horizon 4
2018 | Playground Games
Forza Horizon 4 is simply a joy to play. Unconcerned with the simulation aspects of its sister series, Horizon is free to let loose with ridiculous tracks, jumps, and even a few fantasy vehicles like the Halo Warthog. While it seemed almost impossible to top Forza Horizon 3’s event customization, Playground pushes the envelope even further by not only bringing back that feature but also adding in all four seasons, which rotate each week. You can play one track during the fall and then play it again in the winter a few days later.
No racing game features as much content or continually feels so fresh even after dozens of hours of playtime. And if the base game wasn’t enough, the Fortune Island and Lego DLC packs add even more quality features to extend the fun. On a console seriously lacking in exclusives, Forza Horizon 4 makes a strong case as a system seller.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2015 | CD Projekt Red
What makes a good game truly great is when all of its separate parts perfectly come together to create a world you can get lost in for dozens or even hundreds of hours. The world of The Witcher 3 is breathtaking, full of both lush countryside and bustling cities, but that’s only part of the appeal. New quests and lore lurk around every corner, with so many options that all of your eventual choices can lead to one of three dozen different endings. That’s if you don’t get too distracted with the deep crafting system or the Gwent card game. And regardless of what you’re doing, every line of the superb script is delivered with the expertise of a big-budget Hollywood movie. Is The Witcher 3 the perfect game? Quite possibly.
What’s all the more astonishing is that The Witcher 3 is only the third major release from CD Projekt Red, a once small Polish developer. And those previous two titles were also Witcher games. CD Projekt Red has quickly put itself on the map as one of the best game developers in the world, and if The Witcher 3 is ever unseated as the best game on the Xbox One, it might only be thanks to the developer’s next game, the hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077.