Microsoft’s Xbox One console is over two years old now, but in terms of this generation’s lifespan it’s only really just getting into its stride.
That maturing development process is ably shown by the outstanding games now available to the unashamedly VCR-looking machine and also by Microsoft’s show-stopping event at this year’s E3.
So if you’ve got an Xbox One and want to know what the must-play games are for this generation then look no further, we’ve got you covered.
But let us know what you think. Are there some blockbusters you think need to be on the list? Are there some hidden gems that you feel are missing out?
Hit us up in the comments.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
You’d have to be blind to miss this indie fantasy stunner
A top-class graduate of the “Metroidvania” school of action-adventure design, in which an enormous world gradually opens up as you unlock new abilities, Ori is the kind of experience you show a reactionary relative who thinks “videogame art” is a contradiction in terms.
There’s the world, to start with – a dreamlike maze of canted-over trunks, thorny caverns and sunlit glades – but it’s not just a question of blissful visuals. Ori is a crisp, empowering platformer, with a main character who learns to scurry up surfaces and ricochet away from projectiles, like a spacecraft “sling-shotting” around a planet.
The combat grates after a while, and there are annoying run-the-gauntlet sequences, but this is otherwise one of the generation’s finest new IPs on any console.
2. Rise of the Tomb Raider
The name of the game is freedom in Lara’s latest sprawling outing
Despite being the sequel to a prequel about the young life of the Lara Croft, this still feels like a Tomb Raider game that has grown up. The reboot which saw a brave new direction for the franchise seemed a lot of the time to be little more than a bit of light Uncharted cosplay, but Rise is a far more accomplished game.
There’s now a genuine open world which feels like there is always something to do, and something more than just harvesting up collectibles in exchange for a light dusting of XP. There are also tombs. Yes, that might seem a fatuous thing to say given the name, but the previous game gave them short shrift. In Rise though they are deeper and more plentiful. Rise also has one of the best narratives of any Tomb Raider game, penned again by Rhianna Pratchett, it’s sometimes rather poignant.
So come on, ditch Fallout 4’s wasteland for a while and give Lara some love.
3. Forza Horizon 2
The open road has never seemed more inviting than in Playground’s festival of racing
Ever the happy-go-lucky off-roader to Forza Motorsport’s sternly authentic simulation, the Horizon series’ debut on Xbox One gives you a jaw-dropping play environment with hardly any civilian traffic to worry about – a mix of South France and Italy that’s enlivened by dynamic weather and lighting (the engine actually simulates how light is distorted by passage through a 3D atmosphere).
Your goals are simple: accept quests in any order, unlock new cars, force other drivers to eat your dust. The game’s 30 fps performance isn’t genre-best, and players of the original may feel a sense of deja vu, but this is first-rate automotive entertainment on the whole.
4. Fallout 4
The homecoming we’ve waited seven years for
All things considered, this is one of the best games Bethesda has made. It ticks all the boxes: a massive, detail-oriented open-world; still-fantastic tenets of looting and shooting; a story filled with intriguing side quests and subplots that feel like they matter; and of course a classic soundtrack that brings it all to life. In many ways it’s the game we’ve been waiting for since Fallout 3 steered the series away from its top-down role-playing roots. Not only is the world itself wider, but the plot is better, and more digestible, than any of the games before it. There’s still a sense of mystery about what’s happening but you no longer have to dig forever and a day through terminals to piece it together.
Welcome home, stranger.
5. Dragon Age: Inquisition
“Our weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and gigantic sidequests.”
Inquisition is the proverbial RPG banquet – a 200-hour array of quests, magic-infused scraps, postcard landscapes and well-written character interactions that’s perhaps a bit too familiar, at times, but makes up for it with sheer generosity.
It puts you in charge not just of a four-man party of adventurers but also a private army with its own castle and attendant strategic meta-game, tasked with defeating a mysterious demon menace.
The choice of Unreal Engine makes for vast open environments and sexily SFX-laden combat – fortunately, you can pause the latter to issue orders if the onslaught becomes overwhelming. It’s a genre giant.
Building-high robots and jetpack troopers butt heads in this modern classic
Once the Xbox One’s flagship console exclusive, Titanfall has faded from view thanks to a slightly spartan feature set – there’s not much to unlock next to Destiny and Call of Duty. It remains this generation’s smartest and most unusual FPS, however, marrying ninja-fast on-foot combat to the gloriously thuggish thrill of piloting giant mechs, which are summoned from orbit a few minutes into each match.
The skill with which Respawn has balanced this mix of styles is remarkable – Titans have firepower in excess but they’re easy to hit, and maps offer plenty of places for infantry to hide. Ejecting from the cockpit of a doomed Titan is one of this generation’s most memorable moments.
7. Alien: Isolation
This absurdly faithful horror experience definitely isn’t another day in the Corps
Isolation is the game that made the Alien scary again.
We’ve run into H.R. Giger’s eyeless, monstrosity in so many dodgy spin-offs over the years that the basic design has lost much of its capacity for terror. Creative Assembly’s interpretation stands apart in a couple of ways. One: it can’t be killed by conventional means, obliging you to spend much of the game hiding in lockers with one eye glued to your motion tracker. Two: it’s horribly smart, responding to your avoidance tactics as a predator would rather than plodding along a pre-programmed path.
Add in the space station environments, which are modelled with obsessive exactness on the film’s sets, and you have a franchise-defining title.
8. Quantum Break
Which came first, video or the game?
Had it been rushed, Quantum Break could’ve been an absolute train wreck of disjointed narratives and confusing motives. But, as it stands, the gameplay and video work in tandem to deliver something most games never achieve: cohesion.
What I mean by cohesion is that the characters helping you, the often forgettable side characters in game who are used to get you from point A to point B, become real people. Both in a literal sense (Quantum Break’s live-action video cast includes Aiden Gillen from Game of Thrones, Shawn Ashmore from X-Men, Dominic Monaghan from The Lord of the Rings and a half-dozen other famous actors and actresses) and in a figurative one.
Quantum Break takes on two new and different genres (sci-fi, video) and does so in an impressive way. It’s a neat combination that works in tandem to deliver a better experience than either could on its own.
It takes two to shine in this crazily inventive platformer
Press Play’s “single-player co-op” endeavour Kalimba strikes a homely figure alongside Xbox One’s surfeit of dust-brown shooters, but in terms of originality of concept and inventiveness of execution it has few equals.
The gist: you control two hopping, differently coloured totem heads simultaneously, guiding them past hazards and pitfalls.
The twist: your characters are often split up from one another by the terrain, and must face different combinations of hazards, including energy fields which fry anything that isn’t the same colour.
The result is an incredibly testing puzzler that has the immediacy and zest of a Mario title.
10. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
A Flood of online problems can’t tarnish this bumper Halo package
The Master Chief Collection’s aggravating networking problems have dominated headlines since release, but let’s not forget just what a value-for-money package it represents. For the price of one game you get four of the greatest sci-fi shooters ever made, exhaustively reworked to take advantage of Xbox One’s HD graphics capabilities and (when everything works smoothly) online functions.
Among other perks, there’s a neat dual-engine feature for Halo 1 and 2 that allows you to switch between old and new graphics in real-time, and a hub menu that lets you splice missions from all four games into a bespoke themed campaign.
If you’ve yet to play Halo, this is the place to start in preparation for Halo 5: Guardians.
11. Grand Theft Auto V
There’s no fear and loathing in Los Santos – just explosive entertainment
Yes, including one of last generation’s greatest games among this generation’s finest is rather boring, but GTA V on Xbox One is too good to ignore, with HD visuals, a longer draw distance and a faster frame-rate.
Among other, more practical perks it includes a first-person mode, which genuinely makes this feel like a different game, though the missions, tools and characters are the same. The new perspective pushes Rockstar’s attention to detail to the fore, allowing you to better appreciate the landscape’s abundance of in-jokes and ambient details.
GTA V’s open world multiplayer remains a laidback thrill, whether you’re stuntdiving with friends or teaming up to complete a Heist (a long overdue addition to MP, but worth the wait) – it’s probably the best place to hang out on Xbox Live.
12. Sunset Overdrive
Insomniac’s open worlder is a treat for the eyes and thumbs
We come and go with Sunset Overdrive’s humour – there’s only so many parodic jabs at pop culture you can pack in before you start to sound like somebody’s tryhard uncle – but we can’t fault its taste for chaos.
Created by the makers of Ratchet & Clank, the game sees you grinding, wall-running and bouncing around a mutant-infested city, building up points to trigger a colourful array of powers.
Examples? Well, how about the one that adds a lightning aura to your dodge-roll. Weapons are similarly loony – there’s a gun that shoots razor-edged LPs and a launcher that fires teddybear-shaped tactical nukes. Weary of Assassin’s Creed’s po-face? This should lift your mood.
13. Ryse: Son of Rome
Gladiator meets 300 in this short-lived, simple but enjoyable epic
This might seem like an odd choice, going by the middling Metascore, but Son of Rome is far better than its scathing early reception suggests.
True, the combat isn’t deep, the playlength is a paltry five-10 hours and there are those annoying crossbow turret sequences. But few games capture the ring of sword on shield like Ryse, and the game’s portrayal of Roman Italy and Celtic Britain is gorgeous – by turns spectacular and suspenseful, with some of the most accomplished texture work, lighting and animation we’ve seen.
It’s a hard game to admire, but equally hard to put down.
14. Rare Replay
Relive some of your favorite gaming memories
It’s easy to label Rare Replay as another two-bit collection looking to exploit that sense of nostalgia you get by looking at the cover art for games like Perfect Dark or Banjo-Kazooie.
But dismissing the incredible collection of 30 games from Rare’s heyday means missing out on an expertly crafted walk down memory lane.
While some games hold up better than others (cough, Gunfright) with a collection that spans 30 years and a half-dozen systems, you’re bound to find a few titles to fall in love with one more time.
15. Guitar Hero: Live
Come for the career, stay for the online multiplayer
The Guitar Hero franchise needed a break. Like a band that’s been touring for too long, the act had gotten stale, repetitive and quite frankly, expensive, to keep up with. Guitar Hero Live is the return to form for the series, hitting all the right notes while still forging its own path.
One of my biggest criticisms of past entries is that they relied on pricey DLC to keep the show going after the story mode ended. Guitar Hero Live bucks that trend by offering new songs for free on its MTV-esque music video channel called GHTV. You’ll still have to shell out to unlock every song Activision’s ever put out, but the solid mix of tunes will forever end the never-ending scrolling through setlists that pervades parties.
16. Just Cause 3
Chaos, thy name is Rico Rodriguez
The Just Cause series has always been about sheer fun, and the latest iteration is no different. It’s like the love-child of Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry and Boiling Point, with a touch of Red Faction-esque destruction thrown in for good measure.
It may not have the same sort of depth of gameplay as the latest GTA games, but as a tropical sand-box for you to go tether-happy in, it’s tough to beat for utterly stupid entertainment.
17. Batman: Arkham Knight
Waynes, pains and Batmobiles
It’s a Batman simulator. You get to be Batman.
If you want to pretend you need more reasons than that alone to play it, Rocksteady has a track record for peerless fisticuff-based combat, empowering gadgetry and dark storytelling. Oh, plus you can drive the Batmobile. In short, it’s the complete superhero sim package, presented impeccably and unrelenting in its delivery of show-stopping cinematic set-pieces. Even standing on top of a building watching your cape dance gently in the breeze makes you feel cool.
Out of this world online multiplayer
Calling Destiny ambitious is a disservice to the game. It’s an ambient world (er, galaxy) that operates in real time. It combines single- and multiplayer into a single campaign, seamlessly transitioning between the two. It’s from the team that made Halo, so while Destiny may not have the iconic face of Master Chief plastered on the box, it will have the same creative minds doing what they do best: sci-fi.
So what do you do? Imagine a first-person shooter-inspired World of Warcraft. You’ll create a character and build him/her from a rookie enforcer to earth’s savior by unlocking abilities and improving your expertise with one of the four main types of weapons. Before long you’ll be haunting the same locales for a rare weapon drop and partying up with friends to take down some of the toughest space brutes this side of a Sith Temple.
19. Metal Gear Sold V: The Phantom Pain
How many Snakes does it take to change a lightbulb?
Okay, so Hideo Kojima’s last game for Konami – and his last ever Metal Gear game – might be a little tough for the MGS n00b to get to grips with, but it’s still one of the best stealth-action games ever crafted. The open-world shenanigans will satisfy all your behind-enemy-lines / Rambo fantasies and probably confuse you with crazy plot twists and a million characters all with the same gravel-toned voices.
But hey, that’s all part of its charm, right?
20. Halo 5: Guardians
Master Chief is back, but has he gone rogue?
The singleplayer campaign may not be the perfect FPS creation that many hoped it would be, Microsoft included, but the multiplayer action is what made many of us fall in love with the original Halo in the first place. Where the campaign is a very much by-the-numbers jaunt, 343 Industries has taken more risks with the multiplayer side and that looks to have paid off.
The tense, constantly evolving Warzone game mode alone makes Halo 5: Guardians a worthy purchase alone, but there are many other parts which have you glued to your controller.