The story of the Xbox One is one of many twists and turns. This third generation of the Xbox brand featured many highs and many lows in its lifetime. There have been moments of boneheaded corporate decision making and bad policies, but there have also been glimpses of brilliance and a progressive vision for the future of gaming. One thing is obvious though, however you feel about the Xbox One today, it’s clear that things didn’t go the way that Microsoft had originally planned when they first announced it back in 2013.
Originally conceived to be the centerpiece to your entertainment center, Microsoft hyped the Xbox One as the ultimate multimedia device. All of your movies, television, music, and games together in one place. This all-in-one box also came packed in with their motion sensing Kinect device, which they claimed at the time was absolutely critical to their vision of the new Xbox. The problem was though, with a price tag $100 higher than the competition and an initial pitch that included some restrictive policies on game ownership, it quickly became clear that their vision of the future was not one that their customers shared. Immediately after launch it was clear that their plan had backfired and PlayStation took advantage by establishing themselves as the market leader early and never looking back.
In 2014 Microsoft took the first steps in turning things around when they promoted Phil Spencer to become the head of Microsoft’s Xbox division and the work immediately began on undoing the mistakes of his predecessor. He and his team got to work earning back the trust of the consumers, and rebuilding the Xbox brand that had shined so brightly in the previous generation. They dropped the Kinect and the controversial policies, and instead began to lay the foundation for the future, focusing on what players were telling them they wanted. Great games.
Over the next 6 years they would develop a philosophy that put the players first and delivered on the most consumer friendly policies in the industry. They introduced backwards compatibility to the Xbox One, which included enhanced versions of older titles at no additional cost. They brought their games to more people than ever before with Play Anywhere which brought their 1st party titles to PC, and this year launched xCloud which allows Android users to stream games directly to their phones or tablets. But undoubtedly, the crown jewel in their collection is Xbox Game Pass. Game Pass gives access to hundreds of games, including every new 1st party title, for a low monthly price.
It’s taken years to right the ship, and there’s work still to be done, but as we begin to jump into the next generation we’re beginning to see the fruits of all of these labors. After the missteps of this generation, Xbox has re-established itself as the leading pioneer in the industry. With the largest stable of first party developers, the most powerful console on the market about to arrive, and affordability and accessibility at the forefront of their mission, the future of Xbox has never been brighter.
While one of the biggest complaints lobbied against the Xbox One over the years has been a lack of 1st party titles, the truth though is that they have quite a collection of amazing games available on the console. So we’ve gathered the team together to celebrate some of our favorite Xbox One games from the past 7 years, and a few that may have flown under the radar that you should definitely check out.
I’ve had a soft spot for Gears of War since the original title was released back in 2006. The ultra violent shooter has been one that my wife and I always play co-op together, and for as cheesy and full of macho bs as the series can be, I’ve fallen in love with the world and it’s characters. In Gears 5, developer The Coalition refined the tried and true formula to create a game that felt familiar, but brought in enough new elements (like more open-world style areas) to make it also feel fresh. The polished gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and interesting story make it the best Gears title in years and one of the best exclusives on the platform. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Kait Diaz and company in the next generation.
Over the course of this generation, the Forza series has established itself as the premier racing game in the industry. If you’re looking for a super authentic racing experience, Forza Motorsport simply cannot be beaten. But if you’re like myself and you want more action-packed, arcade style experience, then Forza Horizon is the way to go. Forza Horizon 3 placed racers in the picturesque Australian countryside and featured some of the most thrilling races and beautiful scenery I’ve ever experienced in a racing game. The icing on the cake though had to be the amazing Hot Wheels expansion that had us doing loop de loops on the iconic orange tracks. It was like those childhood moments playing with your cars on the floor had jumped to life. Absolutely brilliant.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of those rare games that looking back on it in hindsight, I don’t think I would change a single thing about. Everything from the visuals to the controls are pulled off with such perfect execution that it’s just a complete joy from start to finish. The story of Ori and his quest to help a friend is like something straight out of a classic children’s storybook. The story is simple, but wonderfully effective, and the look of the game is like a painting come to life. There are a thousand games that fit into the “metroid-vania” style (or castle-roids if you prefer), but I can confidently say that this is the best game in the genre, and that includes the classic games that defined it.
UNDERRATED GEM: Developer Remedy Entertainment is known for delivering action packed games with interesting stories such as Alan Wake and Control. Early on in the life of the Xbox One, they delivered an ambitious time travel tale that blended gaming and television with the release of Quantum Break. As Jack Joyce, players must use a bevy of fun time warping abilities to try and prevent the collapse of time itself and defeat the evil Monarch Solutions organization. Great action set pieces, cool powers, and a fantastic story all came together to create a fantastic game that suffered from bad timing. And yes, I really did enjoy the live action episodes.
On paper, there was no reason for me to like Cuphead aside from the gorgeous aesthetics, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about a game all generation. I have avoided (or tried and gave up on) all the games that exist for the purpose of punishing its player base. Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Nioh, and even Bloodborne (not an Xbox game but it still counts) all exist on a plane of difficulty that I am not welcome in. Cuphead, meanwhile, exists adjacent to these brutal hardcore games but adds something that all of the above are missing; overwhelming charm and a gameplay loop that begs to be played over and over again. Dying in games is rarely fun (outside of rougelikes), but thanks to the near instant respawn times, this hellish boss-rush game wrapped in a 1930s cartoon aesthetic had me hooked. Few games have frustrated me more in my gaming career, but at the same time, few games have felt as rewarding once an encounter is mastered. Studio MDHR promised DLC (cleverly called the Delicious Last Course) back during the Xbox briefing in 2018, but thanks to delays and COVID we’re still waiting. Cuphead: DLC still remains one of my most anticipated follow-ups, in whatever form it finally takes.
The original Gears of War trilogy stands as one of my favorite game series from the Xbox 360 generation, so it’s not an understatement to say that The Coalition had giant, locust-sized shoes to fill when they announced a direct sequel in the GoW series. To make matters more difficult for themselves, they chose to advance the timeline nearly 20+ years while introducing fans of the series to an entirely new cast of character. How would fans react knowing that Marcus Fenix would no longer be leading the charge through enemy territory along side fan favorites such as Damon Baird, Cole Train, and one of the many Carmine brothers?f The answer, we took to it damn well. JD Fenix and crew were instantly likable and represented a new direction for the series, and I was all-in. This was also the first game in the series that I played from front to back in 2-player co-op, and my cousin and I took great pride in stomping locust guts in or chainsawing them in half while laughing like the sadistic maniacs this series encourages us to be. While Gears 5 may be a better overall experience thanks to its tighter narrative and gameplay tweaks, Gears 4 remains a highlight for me in showcasing The Coalition’s vision for the Gears franchise. We haven’t gotten a Gears 6 announcement yet, but we all know it’s coming, and when it does, I’ll be one of the first people in line to wrap up the Kait Diaz trilogy.
UNDERRATED GEM: I honestly don’t know how to describe this game without telling you to watch a YouTube video, but in short, its a “basketball-ish meets soccer” 8bit multiplayer game in which the goal is to score an obscene amount of points over the 4 quarters of the game, each taking only 2-3 minutes at a time. The game features an insane character roster from all over the pop culture universe. I’m talking about Mortal Kombat, Halo, Steven Universe, Minecraft, Spongebob, and damn near anything else you can think of. You can even play as a stack of bacon and George Washington! The objective is simple, get the “ball” into the goal in whatever insane manner of tomfoolery you can manage. Seriously, you need to check out game play footage of this one because I’m not selling the pure insanity that is #IDARB. I have laughed at the absurdity of this game while playing with my cousin more than probably any other game this generation. GO PLAY #IDARB!
Sea of Thieves is a difficult game to describe but its inclusion in this list is justified. While you certainly can take to the seas solo, this pirate adventure title is meant to be played with friends. Having a crew alongside you as you learn to manipulate sails for optimum speed, navigate your ship through a storm, and repair holes as a megalodon sinks its teeth into your boat is a joy. Lessons are harsh as you search for treasure and do battles with skeleton fleets, Ashen Lords, and other pirates seeking their own rewards. What’s best about Sea of Thieves though is the constant improvement. Paralleling the Xbox One’s own launch, Sea of Thieves launched with a severe lack of content that saw many players dip their toe in before thinking they’d seen it all. A steady stream of content updates has seen Sea of Thieves come alive with players, new things to do each month, and all the joys you’d expect from an open world pirate adventure. There are story campaigns and dedicated PVP arenas now, but the true joy comes in picking a place on the horizon and creating your own adventure.
Forza Horizon 4 is perhaps the best racing game ever made. While it doesn’t boast the brilliant sunsets of its predecessor set in Australia, Forza Horizon 4’s setting of Great Britain makes for brilliant landscapes and jaw dropping scenery. Among the most visually impressive games to date, Horizon 4 only improves on the already impressive balance of arcade racing with its more simulation based sibling in the Forza Motorsport series. The racing feels more refined than ever before, even 2+ years after is launch. An impressive DLC suite that includes an entire island of LEGO biomes provides enough levity to calm the nerves of its more intense marathon races. While you may be disappointed to find that Forza Horizon 3 is not readily available due to licenses, you should rest assured that Forza Horizon 4 brings the best the racing genre has to offer for both casual and hardcore racing fans.
Gears of War carried a heavy burden during the Xbox One generation. With the Halo franchise’s stumbles and the failures of Quantum Break and Crackdown 3 to garner success, it fell to Gears of War to become the showcase piece of the Xbox catalog. Even on the eve of the Series S|X launch Gears is being asked to showcase power and precision for gamers to test their skills. Thankfully, Gears 5 is up to the task. While it fails to fully iterate on the waning Gears of War formula, the incredible performance by Laura Bailey in the role of Kate Diaz is reason enough to check out the campaign. You’ll be treated to wide linear levels with brilliant scale and visuals to match. The entire game can be played in co-op and a suite of multiplayer modes can see you suiting up for the toughest of Horde matches or a relaxing bout against AI. The entire catalog of Gears titles is available in Game Pass, but there’s little doubt that Gears 5 is the peak of the franchise. It’s not new, but it’s proven and refined.
This console generation has been full of ups and downs for Xbox, but they by the end they are in a really good place and the future looks bright. So which Xbox One games have been your favorites? Lte us know in the comments section!