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The best Xbox Series X games for 2021

After an uneven console cycle with the Xbox One, Microsoft’s latest consoles are aimed at getting the ship back on course. The Xbox Series X is a next-generation powerhouse that rivals gaming PCs, while the Xbox Series S is an affordable stopgap for those who are curious about trying new games.

There’s no shortage of games to play on either console thanks to Xbox Game Pass, which gives players immediate access to a library of titles old and new. That built-in catalog is an extra value on top of all the new games available on the system that take advantage of its impressive technical specs. When it comes to first-party exclusives, the Series X is still growing. Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 seek to boost the console’s library following a somewhat sparse first year. More games are also on the way. Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition will bring exclusives like Starfield in the near future, but the console’s real strength lies in third-party support.

With the Series X and Series S wrapping up a successful first year, we’ve combed through the current batch of new Xbox games to put together a running list of titles that new console owners shouldn’t miss.


Halo Infinite

A player fired a gun in Halo Infinite.

We’re still waiting on the campaign, but the multiplayer mode made a surprise appearance in November on our consoles and PCs. A few of us were lucky enough to see just how good this game was shaping up based on the test periods, but now the competitive mode that will determine Halo Infinite’s long-term life is out and, quite frankly, amazing. This game brings it back to the old style of shooter Halo used to be known for instead of trying to follow along with trends set by other games in the genre. As an arena shooter, this game feels like the true sequel to Halo 3‘s multiplayer fans have been wanting for over a decade.

Hitman 3

hitman 3 target

Over the past few years, IO Interactive has been knocking it out of the park with its Hitman series. The stealth action game got a huge boost of adrenaline in 2016 with the first game in a sort of rebooted trilogy called World of Assassination. Hitman introduced an ingenious puzzle element to the long-running series, allowing players to find creative and outrageous ways to take out targets. The series has only stayed consistent since, and now Hitman 3 offers a perfect capper to the trilogy.

Hitman 3 doesn’t shake the formula up in many ways, instead opting to double down on what’s made the previous games so enjoyable. The levels are better than ever, offering sprawling sandboxes filled with challenges and surprises. The game’s murder mystery Dartmoor level is especially noteworthy, bringing a classic whodunnit movie setup to the game. Hitman 3 essentially acts as a house for all three games as players can import progress and levels from Hitman and Hitman 2, making it a must-own “complete edition” of the series.

Read our full Hitman 3 review

Destiny 2

Guardians fight together in Destiny 2.

While the Halo franchise changed hands, the original creators at Bungie still show their mastery of the FPS genre with their new IP in Destiny. Destiny 2 has evolved over the years to become one of the most popular games as a service shooter on the market. That success is held up, through some ups and downs of content and company choices, purely on the back of how solid and fun the gunplay is. As an FPS, Destiny 2 just feels so good to play, which is the most important thing for most players. You have tons of PvE content, especially now with so many expansions out, plus the more traditional PvP modes if you want to go head to head.

Control: Ultimate Edition

Control was a massive fan favorite when it originally launched in 2019. Remedy Entertainment’s off-kilter action game offered some mind-bending telekinesis and a bizarre story straight out of Twin Peaks. The game even landed a coveted Game of the Year nomination at the 2019 Game Awards. Now, next-gen console owners can get an Ultimate Edition of the game, which contains all of its DLC in one package.

Control: Ultimate Edition frankly makes the game even better. While the original Control suffered from some tech hiccups and an unstable framerate, the next-gen version runs much more smoothly. New tech means that the game looks better than ever too thanks to ray-tracing. For players who missed out the first time around, the next-gen version is a perfect excuse to jump back into one of the more inventive AAA games to launch in the past few years.

Resident Evil: Village

lady dimitrescu in Resident Evil Village.

After a pair of remakes, which alone are fantastic, Capcom went back to the FPS style of Resident Evil 7 for their first entry on next-gen systems. A direct sequel to 7, Resident Evil: Village isn’t quite as horror-focused as its predecessor, but takes a more balanced approach to action and scares in an attempt to feel somewhat like fan-favorite Resident Evil 4. The titular village is your hub and will open up more and more as you progress the story and collect new weapons and tools to unlock areas. There’s a great cast of villains here, along with some revelations about longtime series staples. It’s a tight, focused, and varied thrill ride from start to finish.

Read our full Resident Evil: Village review


Outriders game

In another year and under different circumstances, Outriders may have flown under the radar. The third-person shooter from Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly was a new IP that could have had trouble standing out amidst a sea of high-profile shooters. When 2021’s launch schedule slowed down due to mass delays, Outriders quickly became one of spring’s most exciting games. It helped that it launched on Xbox Game Pass too, giving Xbox Series X owners something to do.

It’s not just good because there was nothing else to play, though. Outriders is a legitimate blast. It’s a high-octane action game where players control a superpowered hero who can shoot and launch space magic at once. There are tons of ways to tweak and build characters thanks to multiple character classes and a deep perk system that augments every piece of gear. Three-player co-op also turns it into one of the better multiplayer experiences available on Series X right now. As far as new IPs go, it’s a franchise with a bright future ahead of it.

Read our full Outriders review


Scarlet Nexus

Scarlet Nexus boss.

No one would blame you if you mistook Scarlet Nexus for a PlatinumGames project. The action RPG features the kind of fast, complex combat that you’d expect from something like Bayonetta or Vanquish. The game’s futuristic police force setting also makes it feel like a long-lost cousin to Astral Chain. The game actually comes from developer Bandai Namco, which has delivered a stylish hidden gem with a wild, twisting narrative and intense fights to match.

The main hook of Scarlet Nexus is that players can use telekinesis to hurl objects at enemies, not unlike Control. That goes hand in hand with fast-paced slashing, which allows players to rack up some astonishing combos. The complexity doesn’t stop there. Players can bring along allies, each of which has a different elemental power that augments the standard moveset. One ally may add electric powers to your moveset, while another can temporarily slow down time. The joy of Scarlet Nexus is seeing how all of those little abilities can come together and interact to create a ballet of colorful action.

Read our full Scarlet Nexus review

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

The next generation of consoles started as big as possible thanks to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The Series X|S launch title is an open-world behemoth that amps up everything the Assassin’s Creed franchise has to offer with a Viking twist. With a main story that’ll keep players occupied for over 60 hours and a seemingly endless list of activities to complete, it’s the kind of game that can be played for months on end.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla due to its wealth of systems. Whether it’s building a settlement, discovering organic quests throughout the world, or crafting the ultimate raiding machine, the game offers a lot for players to sink their teeth into. Not every mechanic totally hits its mark, but few really miss either. The result is a sprawling epic built for the kind of players who just want to lose themselves in a game world.

Read our full Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review

Yakuza: Like a Dragon


Sega’s Yakuza series has been on the rise for quite some time. The niche franchise gained steady popularity in recent years just in time for Yakuza: Like a Dragon to usher in next-generation consoles. What once was a weird oddity is now an ace in the hole for Microsoft thanks to high critical praise that made it one of the next generation’s most-talked-about launch games.

Unlike previous Yakuza games, Like a Dragon trades in beat-’em-up action for turn-based combat. Players put together a party of four characters who brawl together in battle and can use the environment to their advantage. While that core concept is a departure for the franchise, it still retains its signature wackiness with unpredictable missions and side-quests. For players who have never played a Yakuza game before, Like a Dragon is a perfect jumping-off point that starts a fresh chapter for the franchise.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Immortals Fenyx Rising Puzzle

Ubisoft has become synonymous with “open-world games” over the past decade. Franchises like Assassin’s Creed continually set the bar higher and higher for the genre with gigantic worlds chock-full of content. While there is no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to Ubisoft’s vast catalog, Immortals Fenyx Rising shouldn’t be overlooked. While its name isn’t as well-known as some of the studio’s more established games, the new IP could be the company’s most exciting new franchise in years.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is Assassin’s Creed meets The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Building on Zelda’s free-roaming mobility, the game is all about offering players more fluid and rewarding exploration. That means that the game is less about following a checklist of map activities and more about seeking out and discovering the world’s secrets. It’s a vibrant, funny game that playfully uses Greek mythology to create an entertaining open-world experience that gives Breath of the Wild fans something new to try.

Read our full Immortals Fenyx Rising review


Psychonauts 2

Raz runs on a colorful stage in Psychonauts 2.

Psychonauts 2 was an important test for Microsoft. Despite the fact that the game was set to launch on PC and PlayStation, Microsoft positioned it as an Xbox exclusive. Microsoft owns developer Double Fine, so it’s technically a first-party game. As such, it launched day one on Xbox Game Pass, making it one of the Series X’s most enticing year one releases. If it could live up to the hype of its predecessor, that would be a defining game for the service ahead of Microsoft’s major holiday push.

Fortunately, it got the job done. Psychonauts 2 is an excellent platformer that’s every bit as good as the original cult classic — if not better. While it contains some familiar platforming mechanics, Double Fine turned up the heat for the sequel with more inventive level design and sincerely moving storytelling. Psychonauts 2 may look like an irreverent 1990s cartoon, but it’s a narratively ambitious game that depicts different mental health struggles with empathy. It functions both as a positive learning experience for kids and a relatable one for adults.

Read our full Psychonauts 2 review

It Takes Two

It Takes Two

It Takes Two might be the best multiplayer game of its kind. The two-player adventure game is a labor of love by Hazelight Studios and director Josef Fares. Rather than pitting players against each other, it’s a pure co-op game in which players solve puzzles and platform together. Each level features entirely new mechanics that keep things fresh throughout the 12-hour adventure. It’s a game that was designed from the ground up with multiplayer in mind and that shows.

Good co-op games are hard to come by. While there are tons of multiplayer games out there, few ask players to work together to progress through an authored story. It Takes Two is a rare example of a game that cares about multiplayer mechanics as much as it cares about narrative. The story is a romantic comedy about a couple on the verge of divorce who are turned into tiny dolls. They must work together to both get back to normal and repair their relationship. It’s a clever narrative framework that pairs perfectly with a genre that’s built on good communication and cooperation between players. It’s a multiplayer game that’ll save your friendships, not destroy them.

Read our full It Takes Two review

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

ori and a giant wolf in the moonlight.

If you ever wanted to play a Metroidvania that looked like a painting in motion, there’s no other choice but Ori and the Will of the Wisps. As if the majestic art style and surprisingly touching story weren’t enough reason to pick this game up, the fact that the Series X can push it to run at a stunning 4K resolution and hold 120 frames per second is just icing on the cake. This sequel is a full-on improvement over the great first title, with a large world to explore, new moves to learn, and more bosses to overcome. If you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre, this indie title proves that even a smaller team can create a game that feels as polished and rewarding as any big-budget studio.

Sim, puzzle, and more

Forza Horizon 5

Forza cars race in Forza Horizon 5.

The Forza Horizon style of racing game almost perfectly rides the line between being a racing simulator and a “pick up and play” arcade-style game. The latest entry, Forza Horizon 5, brings the open-world racer into Mexico to show off some of the most beautiful environments and cars ever displayed by a console. Seriously, this game is worth the price just to look at how gorgeous it is. The fact that you get perhaps the best racing game ever crafted on top of that is almost unreal. The game runs buttery smooth at either 30 or 60 fps depending on what settings you prefer and has hours of content to race through.

Read our full: Forza Horizon 5 review

Microsoft Flight Simulator

An airplane flies over a city in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

When Microsoft Flight Simulator first launched in 2020, it wasn’t the most easily accessible game. Even the beefiest of computers could still struggle with the gargantuan game. While it was critically hailed as one of 2020’s best games, it seemed like a lot of players wouldn’t really get to experience it until it hit the Xbox Series X. It finally touched down on the next-gen system one year later via Game Pass, and it was certainly worth the wait: The Xbox Series X is the best way to play Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Part of that is out of necessity more than anything. When I tried to run it on my PC, it was like watching a slideshow (and that was with a GeForce GTX 1070 installed). The Xbox Series X version eliminates the variables that come with trying to run a game on any old PC by optimizing it for consistent tech. While some diehards may wish they had a mouse and keyboard (or a full flight setup), playing on a controller simplifies the flying experience. The whole game just feels less complicated overall, which is great news, because flying is complex enough as is.

Tetris Effect Connected

Tetris Effect Connected

After all these decades, Tetris is still a perfect puzzle game. Clearing four rows of blocks with one straight tetromino piece is still the most satisfying experience in gaming. While several games have found clever ways to play with the formula (see Tetris 99 or Puyo Puyo Tetris), Tetris Effect is hands down the most gorgeous way to experience the game.

Originally released on PlayStation 4 with an excellent VR mode, the Xbox version brings the game’s trippy visuals to the Series X. Players essentially play through rounds filled with aesthetically pleasing visuals and music, making it the perfect chillout game. The Xbox version features new multiplayer options (hence the Connected moniker), bringing co-op and competitive play to the game. While it lacks the VR component that made the original release a hit, it’s still a pleasing puzzler filled with good vibes.

Gears Tactics

The Gears of War franchise has always been known for its fast-paced action and larger-than-life gunplay. So it might be surprising to hear that Gears Tactics, a spinoff of the popular shooter series, is a turn-based strategy game where players methodically plot out attacks.

Surprisingly, the genre flip isn’t as drastic as it might sound. This is still very much a Gears of War game, complete with cover-based shooting, oversized weapons, and hordes of aliens. Compared to other strategy games, Gears Tactics is much heavier on action. Enemies spawn frequently and players can do much more in one turn than just move and fire one shot. For those who love the Gears universe, it’s a fresh take on the franchise that reimagines the pace of a strategy game.

Read our full Gears Tactics review

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