Microsoft and the Xbox One had a rough start to this console generation, but they've really picked up steam since then. Along with the Xbox One S and the upcoming Project Scorpio, Microsoft has a slate of excellent console-exclusive games. All of that may have pushed you off the fence into buying an Xbox One, or maybe you got one as a gift during the holiday season.
Your Xbox One almost certainly came with a game, since Microsoft offered many different bundles. Either way, you're probably looking for more games to play on your brand-new gaming console, and you're in luck! There are plenty of great titles available on the Xbox One, and we've compiled a list of some of the best. (Note: We've generally stuck to console-exclusive games, plus a multiplatform list at the end.)
The Big Ones
Forza Horizon 3: Playground Games' Forza Horizon series continues to enthrall, this time with a beautifully realized Australian setting that ranges from the beach up to the forest. "The world itself is a never-ending source of discovery and charm, so much so that, while playing, all I ever wanted was to reveal more, more, more," our review says. (Buy it on Amazon)
Gears of War 4: The Coalition had a tough job in reviving the mainline Gears series five years after 2011's Gears of War 3, but the studio pulled it off. Gears 4 is "a remarkably consistent, complete package with the kind of refinement and focus few other games can manage," according to our review. (Buy it on Amazon)
Halo 5: Guardians: The latest Halo game fails to provide a satisfying story — guess we'll have to wait until Halo 6 for that — but it might contain the best multiplayer suite in the history of this beloved series. (Buy it on Amazon)
Sunset Overdrive: Insomniac Games delivered an inspired, stylish take on the post-apocalypse with Sunset Overdrive, bringing humor, heart and a colorful punk-rock aesthetic to a typically self-serious genre. Add in the game's skateboard-inspired movement, and you've got one of the most unabashedly fun video game-ass video games out there. (Buy it on Amazon)
Oddities and Indies
ScreamRide: A spiritual successor to the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, Frontier Developments' ScreamRide utilizes stunning physics and environmental destruction technology to make its theme parks come to life (and death!). The well-designed puzzles of its minigames give you the confidence to build your own rides, and the options there are nearly limitless. (Buy it on Amazon)
Ori and the Blind Forest: Don't be fooled by the cutesy look of this unbelievably gorgeous side-scrolling action-adventure game. Ori and the Blind Forest throws devilishly difficult platforming challenges at you, along with a beautiful opening sequence that gets across a heartbreaking story in very few words. (Buy it on Amazon)
Elite: Dangerous: You don't need a gaming PC to play space simulations — or at least, not this one. Frontier Developments' Elite: Dangerous lets you explore an unfathomably massive galaxy however you choose. You can try to make an honest living as a trader or become a space pirate in a universe that's nearly 1,300 years ahead of us. (Buy it from Microsoft)
Inside: It's hard to say whether Playdead's second game or its first one, 2010's Limbo, is more bleak. It's also hard to convey why Inside is so deserving of all the praise that has been heaped upon it. But it definitely is, as our review puts it: "It's a remarkable exercise in taste and restraint, with a tonal and emotional range I didn't know Playdead was capable of." (Buy it from Microsoft)
Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings: Sure, this fantastic indie baseball game debuted on PlayStation in 2014, but the Xbox One and Windows PC versions introduced some upgrades and new content the next year, so we're including it here. (Also, it's our list and we make the rules.) Whether you love or hate baseball, you'll find something to enjoy in Super Mega Baseball, which follows in the footsteps of classics like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz and came in as Polygon's top sports game of 2014. (Buy it from Microsoft)
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime: If you feel like elevating your stress levels, look no further than this 2D platformer from Asteroid Base. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is designed to be played cooperatively, and trust us: It's good to have someone to blame when everything goes belly-up. (Buy it from Microsoft)
Zoo Tycoon: Do you want to play with a tiger? Why are we even asking; of course you do. This charming zoo simulator from Frontier Developments puts you in charge of a playground for dozens of different animals. That's all you really need to know, isn't it? (Buy it on Amazon)
Remasters to Relive the Past
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition: The seminal role-playing game got a beautiful current-gen overhaul, along with all its expansions and — for the first time on consoles — mod support. (Buy it on Amazon)
Rare Replay: Look back on 30 years of history from U.K. developer Rare's expansive catalog, from classics like Jetpac through to modern gems such as Viva Piñata. In addition to the games themselves, the package is full of archive footage that makes Rare Replay an essential piece of gaming history. (Buy it on Amazon)
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition: The original Gears of War was a seminal work, establishing the cover-based third-person shooter as a genre unto itself back in 2006 on the Xbox 360. This remaster from Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition gives the nine-year-old classic a graphical overhaul and, in multiplayer, a bump up to 60 frames per second. And it's still just as fun to slice up aliens with the Lancer's chainsaw. (Buy it on Amazon)
Castle Crashers Remastered: The Behemoth's beloved hack-and-slash side-scroller is reborn with upgraded textures and a 60 fps frame rate, along with matchmaking improvements, additional characters and a new minigame. And it hasn't lost any of its hilarious charm or its capacity for co-op fun. (Buy it from Microsoft)
Halo: The Master Chief Collection: Yes, 343 Industries has finally fixed the severe matchmaking issues that resulted in a disastrous launch for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. So it's now safe to check out this package of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 to see how the games' campaigns and multiplayer components evolved from 2001 to 2012. Plus, you can spend an extra $4.99 to get a remastered version of the Halo 3: ODST campaign as well. (Buy it on Amazon)
State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition: Undead Labs' zombie survival game was a surprise hit on Xbox 360, and the Xbox One version brings everything into 1080p. It also includes the game's expansions and a whole bunch of new content. (Buy it on Amazon)
Doing a 360
Are you upgrading to an Xbox One from an Xbox 360? As of this writing, the Xbox One is backward compatible with 120 Xbox 360 games. Even if you don't already own the titles in question, you can pick up many of them cheaply. Here are a few highlights:
- Assassin's Creed 2: The best Assassin's Creed game not named Brotherhood.
- Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts: If you're not interested in all of Rare Replay, this is a surprisingly terrific departure from Banjo-Kazooie's platforming formula.
- Fallout 3: Spend dozens or hundreds of hours with one of the best games of the previous generation.
- Halo: Reach: It's the only main Halo game that 343 Industries hasn't remastered, and it's great.
- Red Dead Redemption: The most highly requested Xbox backward compatibility title made it to the service in 2016. Play it before the sequel arrives in fall 2017.
- Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise: This follow-up to the effortlessly charming and addictive original is basically the same game, but better.
The vast majority of games are available on multiple platforms, and regardless of whether there's a specific reason to get the Xbox One version, here are a few multiplatform games you might want to pick up for your new console.
- Assassin's Creed Syndicate: It brings the franchise back on track after the disastrous Unity with a more streamlined experience featuring two (!) protagonists who are full of character.
- Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: While the multiplayer component of Infinite Warfare isn't all that different from that of Black Ops 3, the game offers one of the best first-person shooter campaigns in years.
- Destiny: The Collection: With many months to go until Destiny's full sequel, this is a great way to get caught up.
- Hitman: It seems inadequate to refer to the settings of each Hitman episode as a "map." These places are all fully realized worlds, offering countless options for taking out your targets.
- Rocket League: Psyonix brought this soc-car game to the Xbox One in 2016, and has continued to support it with free and paid content. Rocket League has become a veritable classic.
- Fallout 4: The Xbox One version comes with Fallout 3 and timed exclusivity on mods. Oh, and it's an engrossing, wild wasteland to get lost in.
- NBA 2K17: Simply unparalleled in the entire sports genre.
- Rise of the Tomb Raider: Crystal Dynamics' follow-up to its 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise delves further into Lara Croft's past, and delivers more of what everybody wanted: actually, y'know, raiding tombs.
- Titanfall 2: By bringing in a great single-player campaign — the major omission from the original game — Titanfall 2 stood out in a year full of great shooters.
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: A gorgeous, engrossing fantasy RPG anchored by terrific writing and characters, along with deep, complex combat and upgrade systems. And don't miss the terrific Blood and Wine expansion.
A look ahead
If all that wasn't enough to get your blood pumping, remember that there's a lot to look forward to in 2017.
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