However, the company seems to be in a much better place right now. They’ve been pushing for cross-play, acquiring new studios, and consistently improving the catalog of titles included with Game Pass, their Netflix-style gaming subscription service.
So we thought we’d take a moment to highlight some of the best games to play on Xbox One in 2021.
Make sure to check back as we’ll be updating this list with new titles in the future!
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Cuphead is a run-and-gun action game from Canadian developer StudioMDHR. What immediately pops up about the game is its art style, which is inspired by 1930s cartoons and features hand-drawn animations as well as watercolor-painted backgrounds. Although Cuphead may look easygoing, its gameplay is anything but.
The game’s mechanics are inspired by retro run-and-gun games and requires precise platforming and dodging. Most of Cuphead’s gameplay revolves around continual boss fights, with bosses entering different phases during the course of battle. While the game is challenging, recognizing enemy attack patterns and coming up with a different approach can lead you to victory.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
When the Master Chief Collection first launched back in 2014, it was littered with a number of game-breaking bugs. For the past five years, 343 Industries has been slowly getting things to run more smoothly. With a number of updates that address matchmaking and gameplay issues, as well as some quality of life improvements to the classic games, MCC is better than ever in 2019.
The collection includes Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4. With a price tag of $30, the MCC is a great deal for anyone who is nostalgic for the Halo series and would like to replay some of the franchise’s best games.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania platform-adventure game from developer Moon Studios. The game has you take control of Ori, a fox-like white guardian spirit, and Sein, a fairy resembling a blue orb. While Ori uses many of the standard Metroidvania conventions, it places an emphasis on twitchy traversal, requiring you to react quickly when moving through areas.
The game is challenging and tests your ability to use new skills quickly as Ori acquires them. This could easily lead to annoying instances where you have to replay an area after failing, but thanks to the game’s outstanding visuals and sound design, repeated attempts never feel like a chore.
Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 is a testimonial to everything developer Playground Games has learned since releasing the first game in 2012. The game has received the highest ratings of any Horizon game before, and for a good reason. Its world is set in the United Kingdom, features 420 beautifully-rendered licensed cars, and introduces a new weather system which has the open-world cycle through seasons over time.
In addition, Forza Horizon 4’s use of a connected online world allows you to see other players while exploring open-roads, making the world feel more populated. While this feature is optional, it does a great job at integrating online multiplayer, a core component for several game modes.
Gears of War 4
Although Gears of War 4 does little to innovate the cover-based shooter’s formula, the game still delivers a meaty Gears experience thanks to a number of refinements from developer The Coalition. Set 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3, the game introduces a new trio of protagonists dealing with the most recent threat to humanity’s survival, the Swarm.
Prime among Gears of War 4’s highlights is the close attention to detail used when capturing the feel of a Gears game, as sliding into cover feels tight and headshots are as satisfyingly gory as ever. The game also introduces some interesting new weapons like the Overkill, a shotgun that fires twice: once when pulling down the trigger and again when letting go.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – Blackout Mode
Although Black Ops 4 has faced some steep criticism for its lack of a single-player campaign, Treyarch’s refocusing on multiplayer content has definitely paid off, especially with the addition of Blackout Mode. While the battle royale trend had already plateaued when Black Ops 4 dropped, seeing a Call of Duty take on the genre was still impressive. For the most part, its standard battle royale: up to 100 players fall out of the sky, land somewhere on the map, then loot and shoot till one person is left standing.
However, where Blackout differs is its large map size, in fact the largest map of any Call of Duty game before, peppered with familiar locations from its long history of games. Additionally, the game features more stable frame rates and a better selection of weapons than other royale games. If you’re a fan of core multiplayer modes or zombies, don’t grieve, as they’re all here as well, and play better than ever.
While Ashen borrows heavily from Dark Souls with its challenging combat mechanics, it also manages to add its own spice to the action-RPG genre in the process. The game has your character looking to build a home in a world where civilization has crumbled and deadly creatures fester in the dark. Gameplay has you exploring caves, forests, and ancient ruins in search of stronger equipment as character progression in Ashen is tied to gear, not stats.
Along the way, you’ll be balancing time spent in both the light and the dark. Areas of light tend to be a lot safer, while darker environments are littered with frozen skeletons, giant spiders, and even more enemies waiting to attack. Ashen’s cartoonish visuals pair nicely with the grim, fantasy tone of the game and given the kind of titles Annapurna Interactive is known for, comes as a pleasant surprise.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a bold game across all fronts. Rockstar set out to make not only a satisfying sequel to the original game, but provide players with a realistic open-world that makes every animation and activity carry weight. While certain parts, like the painfully long animal skinning animation may be too repetitive for some, these small details add to the game’s world overall.
It’s also hard to not get invested as you watch Arthur Morgan’s character arc unfold, witnessing firsthand how much pain he’s caused for others and himself. Although Red Dead 2 sometimes feels like it’s working against the player, its beautiful story and well-crafted world are worth experiencing.
Hitman 2 makes a number of refinements to the 2016 reboot. Levels are much larger in scale and filled with a number of new ways to complete objectives, mainly assassinating specific targets. Agent 47 is back better than ever, capable of slipping into more disguises and blending in with virtually any crowd.
The game ditches the episodic delivery of the first game’s missions, instead offering the entire spread of its content all at once. While this conflicts with the nature of Hitman, which encourage replaying levels in order to explore all the paths of eliminating your target, it’s much better to have the entire game at your fingertips from the start. Seeing all the different strategies that can be used to complete a mission can become addicting, and post-game content via elusive-target challenges adds to Hitman 2’s replayability.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
While Assassin’s Creed games had begun to grow stale in recent years, 2017’s Origins breathed new life into the series, delivering a refreshingly new story and approach to gameplay while keeping the streamlined combat and traversal the series is known for. Odyssey looked to continue the momentum that had been built and thoroughly exceeded expectations.
The game blurs the line between realism and a power fantasy even more than Origins, having you take on the role of either a male or female mercenary fighting for both Athens and Sparta while trying to unite your family and uncover a supernatural force. It’s extremely ambitious in both its scope and RPG elements, offering a striking depiction of ancient Greece and an epic adventure filled with enough quests to keep you busy for upwards of 70 hours.
Dead Cells is a fast-paced, 2D-roguelike with Metroidvania elements. Gameplay revolves around exploring procedurally generated dungeons, defeating enemies and discovering blueprints for better gear before your untimely death at the hands of any number of the game’s challenging foes.
The combat in Dead Cells is punishingly difficult and requires precise timing and constant movement in order to survive. While each death brings you back to the beginning of a dungeon, you’re able to make incremental upgrades to your abilities and gear in order to delve deeper on your next run and uncover more secrets.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Sporting three playable characters in its single-player story as well as the ability to create your own in its online component, GTA 5 is Rockstar’s biggest, most driven attempt at making a large open-world filled with plenty to see and do. The result is a shockingly realistic depiction of a real-world, albeit one crammed with over-the-top crime activity. However, that’s no slight against GTA 5 as its one of the best games for causing mayhem and living out your criminal fantasies.
The online version of the game is well-supported, with the latest addition “Heists” allowing for you and your friends to take on extended missions that require careful planning and teamwork to pull off. There are also a bunch of community-made mini-games and activities to extend playtime.
Resident Evil 2
It’s become clear that Capcom is trying to return the Resident Evil series to its survival horror roots with the release of 2017’s Resident Evil 7 and now the HD remake of Resident Evil 2. Offering more than just a polished up version of the original game, RE2 has been remade from the ground up with all new assets and now features an over-the-shoulder camera. The game has you play as rookie cop Leon Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield, who find themselves in Raccoon city during a zombie outbreak.
The survival elements in RE2 are displayed prominently, with ammo and supplies constantly scarce. Zombies move in unpredictable patterns and in some situations are better to avoid than risk missing a shot and wasting precious ammo. While RE2 may look like a modern game in terms of graphics, it still feels very much like a classic, horror survival experience where careful planning is essential for making it out alive.
There are certain things you can expect from a Doom game: Ultra-violence loaded with gore and flashy kills, overpowered weapons, and a generic story that serves as an excuse to rip demons in half. While id Software’s 2016 Doom reboot makes sure to check all those boxes, it does bring some new stuff to the series.
Aside from amazing modern graphics, Doom has a more fleshed out upgrade system than previous games, which allows you to invest in weapons you love and play how you want. The game also features Glory Kills for the first time, allowing you slay wounded or weak creatures with mesmerizingly gruesome, over-the-top attacks. Great traversal and combat controls make Doom a must-play for fans of first-person shooters.
If you’re somehow not familiar with Minecraft in 2019, it’s likely you’ve been living under a rock. It’s a sandbox survival game where you break blocks, obtaining resources that can be used to construct tools, weapons, decorative items, you name it. What’s led to the Minecraft’s longevity is a creative playerbase that are actively finding new ways to make interesting structures with the game’s tools.
In 2019, the game’s community is bigger than ever, with millions of active players on servers each month. Additionally, the Minecraft community is among the most welcoming of new players and with cross-platform functionality, it’s easy to play with friends who might not own an Xbox.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Arc System Works took the Dragon Ball franchise and created a frenetic fighting game that not only looks awesome, but controls well too. This isn’t out of the norm as the developer has earned a reputation for making fighting games with tight, responsive controls over the decades. What’s most impressive is how those controls translate to the action on screen in DBF.
While the characters are all rendered in 3D, they’re textured and animated to appear as 2D sprites, giving them a distinct hand-drawn appearance that looks amazing in battles. Combos are just as dramatic as you’d expect from a Dragon Ball game, with you and your teammates performing dazzling tag team maneuvers in the game’s 3v3 mode. Although DBF’s roster may be limited by only including 24 characters from its universe, each fighter feels different enough that finding a favorite is easy.
Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves is a worthy recommendation for any Xbox One owner with one caveat: you’re going to have a lot more fun playing if it’s with friends. While it’s possible to go through the game solo, ship invasions from enemy players make it hard to progress without a squad to back you up.
There’s also the issue of larger, more complex ships requiring multiple players to man each of its components. And if you’re not playing a pirate game to have a giant pirate ship then what’s the point? Aside from that, Sea of Thieves has a terrific, cartoonish art style, and simple mechanics that are easy to grasp for new players.
Insomniac didn’t hold back any punches when creating Sunset Overdrive’s colorful, punk rock world. The game never hesitates to break the fourth wall and has your character, appropriately named “Player” embarking on a radical quest to rid Sunset City of its mutated population.
Gameplay has you traversing an open-world by grinding on rails as you complete quests for other survivors and thin out herds of zombie-like creatures. Sunset Overdrive’s extreme sense of humor seems to bleed into every corner of the game, with the addition of weapons like the “flaming compensator”, a shotgun with two wooden balls hanging from its handle. What’s most surprising is how well Overdrive’s mechanics work in tandem, with grinding and combat blending together seamlessly.
Far Cry 5
Far Cry 5 is the most recent installment in Ubisoft’s running series of FPS action games. And much like a Hollywood block-buster movie, FC5 takes you on an exciting adventure packed with plenty of explosions and bear mauling in its open-world set in Montana, USA. You play as a sheriff tasked with taking down a drug-addicted religious cult.
While the game’s been criticized for not investing enough in its story, which has plenty of latent political undertones, it’s still a great game to have some mindless fun. Aside from its campaign, which can be played in both solo and co-op, FC5 features a map editor which allows players to create their own challenges and share them with the world.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Inquisition still holds up as one of the best action RPGs of the last decade, even in 2019. BioWare created a highly detailed open-world, filled with a wide-variety of quests and dungeons to explore. The game is played from a third-person perspective and has you working with your party of Inquisitors to thwart the efforts demonic entities that have invaded your world after a mysterious tear rips open the sky.
Players create their character, choosing from one of four races: human, dwarf, elf, and Qunari. In addition, the game has you pick between three classes: warrior, mage, and rogue. Inquisition features the biggest map of any Dragon Age game that came before it, including a number of locales such as desert, swamp and mountain areas.