The Xbox Series X, first revealed last year, will be released later in 2020, bringing to an end the Xbox One’s time as Microsoft’s frontline home video game console. After knocking it out of the park with the Xbox 360, Microsoft struggled a bit this generation, as factors like the Xbox One’s lack of exclusives contributed to the console selling less than half what the PS4 managed worldwide.
Still, the tech company did pioneer some brilliant ideas this generation, like an accessible controller and the Xbox Game Pass, a subscription gaming service that has threatened to completely overturn the way games are made and sold.
With the Xbox One’s time in the sun drawing to a close, then, below you’ll find a list of the 20 best games released on the platform since its release in 2013. Like the PS4 list, ports, remasters and re-releases of older games are not included—which is why games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Master Chief Collection are missing.
You’ll also find a number of games here that were on the PS4 list because as multi-platform releases they’re just as good on Microsoft’s system as they are on Sony’s. So without further delay, here are the 20 best Xbox One games.
The Witcher 3
One of the most ambitious RPGs ever made is also one of the best. From the wind to the water, the entire world comes alive in The Witcher 3 and every character has their own story to tell. It’s not a game that cares about princesses in peril or dragons with curses. Rather, it simply uses its fantasy setting as a blank canvas to tell very real stories, some grounded in slavic mythology, others in issues more pressing for a modern audience.
It’s weird when you look back over the Xbox One’s entire lifespan and realize only one Halo game ever graced the system. And let’s be honest, this series hasn’t been the same since Bungie went off to make Destiny and Microsoft took over. Still, the bones of a good Halo game are found throughout Halo 5 and even with its story stretched threadbare there are few first-person shooters out there able to convey the same sense of heft and grace that Halo 5 does at its best.
Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon might have begun life as a spin-off from the main Forza series, but it’s quietly evolved to replace it as the premiere racing game on the Xbox. Anyone mourning the demise of the classic (and Xbox-exclusive) Project Gotham Racing, or Codemaster’s Grid series will find traces of those exuberant racers here. Horizon knows better than most driving games that the real fun in driving a video game car is in nailing the sensation of speed and the thrill of racing, not an adherence to suspension accuracy or tire wear.
Sea of Thieves
One of the strangest trends over the past few years has been the emergence of the zombie game. Not the genre but the game that is presumed dead and later, long after launch and despite all odds, returns to life. Fortnite and Rainbow Six Siege are two of the biggest examples, but Sea of Thieves is Microsoft’s best example, Rare’s sandbox pirate game navigating the treacherous waters of a lukewarm release to eventually find its sea legs in a refined, madcap co-operative experience like no other.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Can a game be too big? Rockstar certainly pushed that question to its limits with Red Dead Redemption 2, which took so long to come out, and has so much stuff in it, that it almost feels like an indulgence. Imagine a game with a meticulously crafted single-player world, which can take dozens of hours to complete—and that’s if you’re rushing it. To this day there are people who have never even see it, simply because they’re too busy playing its online mode instead, which is just as expansive.
Titanfall was good, but it was also severely lacking in a dedicated single-player mode. Titanfall 2 addressed this and then some, showing that Respawn’s Modern Warfare DNA is still very much alive and kicking, and that they can still craft a single-player campaign like few others. If you enjoy story-driven first-person shooters with jaw-dropping moments of spectacle, there’s nothing better on the Xbox One.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
2003’s The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker set a new benchmark for open-world games with its blue skies and nautical freedom. It’s weird that Assassin’s Creed, of all series, would revisit the idea and in some ways better it, but here we are. While it’s not for everyone, since it continues Origin’s push to drop some of the series’ dead weight in favor of a more RPG-like experience, Odyssey is an almost perfect combination of sandbox mayhem and finely-tuned stealth. And, as if the main game isn’t enough, there has been enough DLC released for the game since launch to keep anyone new to the game busy for months.
Cuphead has become notorious for its difficulty, which is a shame, because that single notion overshadows the other areas this game absolutely excels in. Pitched as a playable version of old-timey 1930s cartoons, its art style and animation are simply stunning, somehow making it feel like stars Cuphead and Mudman have been around for 90 years instead of three.
There’s architecture in almost every video game we play, from racers to RPGs, but can you remember a time it was thrust so far into the limelight that it became the star of the show? By setting its super-powered shooter in an ever-transforming brutalist office building, Remedy were able to turn concrete and old carpet into an intriguing, yet menacing centerpiece. There’s a lot going on in Control, which won’t be spoiled here, but fans of Remedy’s approach of injecting real-world games with bonafide weird shit is in fine form here. It’s not the best game on the Xbox One, it’s not even the best shooter, but it’s one of the most memorable.
Metal Gear Solid V
Metal Gear games used to be synonymous with cramped corridors and fenced-in military bases, so there was no guarantee that moving to huge sandbox spaces was going to be an upgrade for Metal Gear Solid V. Not to worry. Kojima’s last Metal Gear game is also the smoothest. The political madness and stealth gags are still there, but moving to bigger levels simply gave us all more options, tools and Bowie covers at our disposal.
Ok, yes, this is only here because Bloodborne wasn’t released on the Xbox. But Sekiro is still deserving of its place on a list like this. Leaving the darker worlds of Souls behind, this is instead a samurai-themed journey through a fantasy landscape, with combat that’s a bit sharper and more direct than FromSoftware’s other games. It still has that same Souls DNA though: every battle can kill you, and every failure is yours to own and learn from.
Never judge a book by its cover. For those unfamiliar with Automata it might look like a weeb fantasy about a scantily clad anime girl with swords who fights robots, and...ok, it is about that, but it doesn’t take long to see there’s a lot more to it than that. Automata is a game with layers where the player just needs to keep peeling, look past the beautiful combat, look past the tale it's telling and just keep on peeling to find that peeling is the point, as the game wants you to keep playing it over and over to fully uncover its story and secrets. All of which are definitely worth the effort.
The real genius of the Hitman series is in how it takes the stealth genre and flips it. Normally these kind of games make you the hunted, putting you in vulnerable positions, constantly in fear of tripping an alarm or being spotted. In Hitman you’re doing the hunting, able to dress up as anyone and get access to anywhere, and it’s exhilarating. The act of killing a man, stealing his clothes then dumping his body in the trash should be ghastly, but Hitman 2 turns it into a playground thrill.
Outer Wilds’ appeal is simple: it’s Groundhog Day in space. Forced to relive the same day over and over, you’ll gradually uncover the mysteries of the universe and a way to get out of this whole mess. Loads of space games are dangerous on an abstract level, with enemies all around, but the way Outer Wilds makes you a first-person astronaut, able to leave your ship any time and float around the hazards of the cosmos, is all the more perilous. Here it’s space that will kill you more often than anything else, but all that death is worth it for the way Outer Wilds’ story gently unfolds in front of you with each passing reincarnation.
Kentucky Route Zero
Taking seven whole years to complete its episodic saga, Kentucky Route Zero is a lot like Telltale’s old adventure games, in that it knew what people really wanted from an adventure game. And it wasn’t the puzzles. It was the conversations and knowing this KRZ ditches problem-solving entirely, instead just taking us all on a wild trip through its David Lynch-infused version of the backroads of Kentucky.
The graffiti-and-skating obsessed Jet Set Radio Future was one of the best games on the original Xbox and while Sega seems unlikely to ever make a new one (or even let us play the original via backwards compatibility), Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive is perhaps as close as we’re going to get. Its humor and style isn’t for everyone, but its high-speed grinding was some of the most exhilarating moments of the whole console generation. Which, considering Insomniac then went onto perfect Spider-Man’s web-slinging on the PS4, shouldn’t be a surprise.
Not every online shooter has to be about killing other people. Destiny’s enduring popularity, across two games now on the Xbox One, proves that sometimes it’s more fun to work together. Destiny 2 has had its ups and downs, like most “living shooters” do these days, but it’s easily had more good days than bad. It also has, aside from its sublime gunplay, some of the coolest skins and weapon designs in video game history.
It would be too easy to write off Stardew Valley as a Harvest Moon simulator, a series that has never graced the Xbox, but that’s selling it very short. Stardew Valley improves on the classic farm life series, building a real sense of community (and romance) to go along with all the crops and animals. Just like a real farm, playing Stardew Valley can be hard work, but it can also be very rewarding.
Ori And The Blind Forest
Its sequel just released, so now is the perfect time to check out Ori and the Blind Forest if you haven’t already. Part-Metroid, part-Rayman, it’s a beautiful game where the exquisite visuals and story take center stage, but not at the expense of some challenging platforming and head-scratching puzzles.
Gears of War 5
Like Halo, the Gears of War series just keeps on coming, one Xbox after the other. Unlike Halo, though, its last game was also one of its best. Sure it was familiar, in both presentation and gameplay, but when you’re talking about a series that has such a unique, heavy feel to its combat, that’s all most fans ever wanted. It’s rare that a game series can survive changing studios like Gears has (Microsoft bought it from Epic and moved development to The Coalition), so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares now that former Gears of War boss Rod Fergusson, a constant through the transition, has left the company.
Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor at Kotaku. You can read more of his work here.