Over the past two weeks, we have counted down the 50 best games you can play on an Xbox console. Finally, on the eve of the Xbox Series X|S launch, we have arrived at the top 10. Our editorial staff ranked and fought over many a game from Xbox’s history. We have had spirited discussions, and we fully expect you to disagree with us. That’s the fun of it!
Before we get started, check out the rest of the Top 50 here:
10. Grand Theft Auto V
A game that has appeared on both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, GTA V will complete the hat trick by coming to the Series X/S. While many fans of the best-selling open world series are begging for GTA VI (myself included), the fact that Rockstar is maintaining support for GTA V speaks to its massive success. The game is known for its epic single player missions, great acting and story lines, and action-packed heists. But the online world is what keeps players playing. And it vaulted GTA V to the second best selling game of all time.
I originally played the game on the Xbox 360, and it was the first game I ever purchased with multiple discs. The game was massive but so is the world. Alternating between three main characters (Michael, Franklin, & Trevor), you progress through the game in roughly 20-30 hours. And that’s just hitting the main story missions. There are hundreds of hours of additional content in the single player alone, not to mention the infinite possibilities through online play.
My first experience with GTA was with Grand Theft Auto III, way back on the PS2. That game was one of the most incredible, unique gaming experiences of my life until that point in time. I recall convincing my mom to let me skip school with Vice City’s release. And San Andreas? Maybe my favorite in the series. All this to say, Grand Theft Auto has been in my life for nearly 20 years. And GTA V is such a well-polished game, it’s without question one of the top 10 games on Xbox.
9. Dark Souls
Prepare to Die. Those are the words that greet you when you purchased a copy of Dark Souls back in 2011. And if you didn’t ‘Git Gud’, then die you shall. However, once the game clicked, it turned out to be one of the best Action RPG’s of all time. So much so that every difficult game since has been compared to it. It took me a long time to ‘Git Gud’, but once I did I discovered the wonderfully connected world that Dark Souls had to offer. The different areas weaved in on themselves and connected in surprisingly interesting ways.
The original Dark Souls did have a bit of a hiccup in the form of Blighttown’s wonderfully bad framerate issues, however, the remastered version fixed it. The story is told not through long cutscenes and text blocks but instead through the world design and information hidden in item descriptions. It’s not a happy game at all, and at times it can feel super bleak. But it’s well worth pushing on and falling in love with the game.
The first time I made it to Anor Londo in Dark Souls, I was immediately met with a sense of amazement and awe. The feeling never stopped on subsequent playthroughs. It’s also the home of what I think is the most rewarding boss fight in video game history. Overall, there’s not too many better and more influential games in video game history than Dark Souls.
8. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Skyrim has, of course, had quite the journey on consoles. It’s original launch on Xbox 360 was met with critical acclaim and fervour that never died down. It was the culmination of a decade of hard work that started in 2002 when Morrowind released on the original Xbox. Bethesda delivered with Skyrim an RPG that looked and played beautifully on both consoles and PC, even with a myriad of bugs. The land is wonderful and ripe for exploration. It’s no wonder that Skyrim has a place in most everyone’s hearts.
2016 bought another milestone for the fan-favourite game, as Skyrim Special Edition released on the Xbox One. This included the fantastic DLCs, as well as the capability for modding on consoles, a series first. Mods allow the community to create new content, enhance the game and change it in significant ways. Skyrim Special Edition made it incredibly easy to download and install mods. This means that players can spend even more time in the land of Skyrim and experience an overwhelming amount of content, all without paying an extra cent.
Skyrim is part of our top 10 games on Xbox for a few reasons. It offers a world of breathtaking sights, quests and battles that shape many people’s love for high-fantasy RPGs, and continues to define the genre for years to come. Whether you experienced ‘vanilla’ Skyrim or you heavily modded your game, there is something for everyone.
7. Batman: Arkham City
The Batman Arkham series is massively popular for good reason. It makes you feel like Batman in every sense of the character. The game blends his personal relationships with epic combat set pieces perfectly. And there’s lots of intriguing detective work to knit together a fantastic storyline worthy of the titular character. It all feels fantastic and builds up to an unbelievable ending that will never be forgotten.
Arkham City expands upon it’s predecessor by giving players an entire city to explore and adding new gadgets to master. However, despite how much it improves upon Asylum, Arkham City is also fantastic for what it retains: the stellar voice cast. Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker have been in TV shows and movies, but it’s their work in the Arkham series that elevates this to a game everyone should play, regardless of whether you’re a comic book fan.
Minecraft is undeniably one of the most popular gaming experiences ever. For many children these days, it’s their first. For many of us, it was our formative experience. The one that allowed us to tap into that creativity hidden deep inside. It’s more than just a survival game. Minecraft is a landmark of the genre that will never move.
Whether you want to explore, survive, build, create or just make stupid stuff with your friends, Minecraft lets you do it. It can be a fantastic survival experience, a building experience akin to Lego or a farming simulator like no other. Minecraft is whatever you want it to be, an experience only limited by your imagination.
Minecraft open approach to multiplayer makes it even more amazing. It drops you in the world and off you go. Nothing to tie you together, nothing to dictate what each player does. You can work as a team or only see each other once a day. Maybe you’ll opt to never see your Minecraft friends, instead just basking in the comfort that they are somewhere out there in the vast, randomly generated world waiting to be found. No matter how you play, Minecraft incites joy at every step. It’s a gaming landmark, a cultural icon, and easy to put at number 6 on our top 10 games on Xbox.
5. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is the best sci-fi RPG video game ever made. The characters are all interesting with their own personalities. The story, both main quests and side quests, are all varied and fun to play. Plus they sink their hooks in you quite quickly. By the end of the campaign you are very connected with the companion characters to the point where it feels really bad if they die at the end. The decisions and choices in the final missions are hugely impactful. Not many video games before or since had the impact.
On top of the great story was some good shooting mechanics and fun abilities. The battles were smooth and most importantly fun. It’s an all time classic Science Fiction piece of art that is well worth exploring.
This year marked the 10 year anniversary of Mass Effect 2 and we finally got some great news on N7 day. Mass Effect 2 is being remastered in 4K and included in Mass Effect: Legacy Edition which includes all the DLC and the first and third game in the trilogy.
4. Fable 2
Fable 2 has it all. Fun Combat (albeit easy)? Check. Interesting NPCs? Check. A doggo to roam around with? Check. Is that everything? No, but Fable 2 probably has it. You can explore the world and fight baddies. You can search for keys, gargoyles, and puzzle doors to open. Or you can buy up a ton of businesses, jack up the rent, and become the evil landlord you were always meant to be.
The main story in Fable 2 is interesting and culminates in a final choice that shows you how selfish you are. On top of that decision, your actions over the course of the game affect how you look. If you make a bunch of evil choices, you’ll grow a nice set of horns Daniel Radcliffe style. Make only good decisions and you’ll gain a nice little halo above your head.
Besides the main story, it’s fun to just hang around in the town of New Bowerstone in Fable 2 and interact with the town folks. You can actually fart in someone’s general direction. One decision that not many games allow you to make. While it can be silly at times, it never stops being fun and engaging, and is well worth playing even now.
3. Halo 2
The Halo series has already been mentioned a few times in our countdown to 1. But Halo 2 is in a class of its own quite frankly. As a follow-up to the console seller Combat Evolved, this game really sets the standard for a great campaign paired with awesome online play. In fact, some might argue that Halo 2 perfected online play for consoles. And I wouldn’t disagree with them.
The original Halo has great multiplayer. However, it’s limited to local play on your Xbox, or linking up through LAN with up to three other consoles. With Halo 2, matchmaking was born and the ability to play against friends and random foes online became a reality. It was the wild west of online play, and anything and everything happened. I didn’t have broadband internet at the time, so I spent many nights at a buddy’s playing online matches.. over and over and over.
And while the game is touted for this online play, the campaign was one heck of a trip too! With the back-and-forth missions as Master Chief and The Aribiter, a whole new layer of the Halo universe onion was peeled back. On top of this, the introduction of dual-wielding weapons adds a unique wrinkle to both the campaign and multiplayer.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
I was a PS2 owner back in 2001. I remember going to school after the Xbox released in November, and hearing a friend rant and rave about this game “Halo.” It sounded cool, but I had no idea what I was missing until he brought his Xbox over to my house a few weeks later. We first played through the campaign on co-op and literally (not figuratively) finished through to the end in one sitting. I was hooked.
The Halo: Combat Evolved single player is to this day my favorite campaign in any game ever. There are certainly more expansive worlds and easier to understand plots. But the grandiose of Halo’s campaign is still just amazing. Battling the covenant and trying to save the planet just felt important. I’ve written about it before, but the score for the game is also just top-notch.
And then we have multiplayer. I can’t tell you how many weekends in my high school years were occupied by Halo tournaments at various friends’ homes. We would link up 4 Xbox’s and compete with 16 people in a March Madness style bracket. It was really the first glimpse at what would come with Halo 2’s matchmaking and online play.
At Generation Xbox, Halo is certainly a big part of our fandom. Combat Evolved is the best in our eyes for the following reasons: the universe it created, the campaign replay value, and for the biggest re-definition of console multiplayer since Goldeneye on the 64. When deciding our top 10 games on Xbox, there were some tough cuts. But Halo: Combat Evolved was never in question.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
A masterpiece by almost any measure, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 delivers in every way. The scope, story, characters, and details are all incredible. Playing as Arthur Morgan, you are part of the Van der Linde gang at the end of the 19th century in the American southwest. As Dutch, the gang’s leader, gradually descends into madness, Arthur is torn between loyalty and finally achieving the life he has wanted for so long.
Red Dead Redemption 2 captures the look and feel of the American Southwest, whether you are travelling through the beautiful landscapes or one of the towns or cities. Cities in Red Dead 2 are truly alive, and each town or settlement has a personality all it’s own. NPCs are also integral to the game, as they create the feel and tone of the world, along with driving the actions of Arthur, John Marston, and the rest of the gang.
I only had two complaints about Red Dead Redemption 2. First, the shooting mechanics aren’t as great as the rest of the game deserves. But I didn’t really care that much. Gunfights were still incredibly fun, and strategy played a significant role in whether you would succeed. The other is the sometimes maddening conflicts that are triggered when you accidentally run into an NPC’s horse or wagon while riding. Even though it drives me crazy, it isn’t enough to not make it one of the top 10 games on Xbox. Or enough to take it out of the top spot.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best game Xbox has ever had because it has everything. It has a wonderful, deep, expansive story with intriguing, fleshed out characters. It has real conflict and stakes that feel big. RDR 2 also allows you to take a break from the campaign and just feel part of the world – hunting, fishing, taming horses, trading. You feel like you are part of the world. It is what video games are at their absolute best.
Happy Xbox Series X|S launch day, everyone!