The Best Games For The Xbox Series X And S

an illustration of an xbox series x
Illustration: Angelica Alzona

A new console generation usually means a new library of games. That’s not exactly the case with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, at least not yet. There are few true next-gen exclusives. Instead, several recent Xbox games were released in both last-gen and next-gen versions.

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Meanwhile, a handful of legacy Xbox One titles have received “optimized” versions for the Series X and S. (In other words: sharper resolutions and higher framerates.) Amid the 30 or so “optimized” games, there are some true gems. Though you can technically play all of them elsewhere, they perform notably better on these new consoles.

Yes, the Xbox Series X and S are basically suped-up Xbox Ones, which means you’ll rarely be pressed for awesome games to play. A good rule of thumb is this: If it was playable on the Xbox One, it’s playable on the Xbox Series X and S. (To that end, here’s our list of the best games for the Xbox One.) There’s also the matter of a little service called Game Pass. For $10 a month, you can access a library of more than 100 Xbox games, including standout exclusives like Forza Horizon 4 and third-party hits like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. (Hey, look, here’s our list of the best games on Game Pass.) With all that in mind, here are the best games for the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.

(A quick note for Kotaku regulars: As with any console launch, the early offerings aren’t exactly robust. To that end, our next-gen Bests lists are lower than the usual 12, and limited to games with truly new-gen versions. For great backward-compatible Xbox One games, consult the links above. We’ll update this post as additional worthy Xbox Series X games release in the coming months.)


agent 47 in hitman 3
Screenshot: IO Interactive

Hitman 3

For a slow game, Hitman 3 moves fast. You, as international superspy Agent 47, are tasked with eliminating various high-profile targets on expansive, open-ended levels. Like the previous two Hitman games—and every spy movie, ever—these levels span the globe: Dubai, Dartmoor, Berlin, Chongqing, Mendoza, and the snowy Romanian backcountry. (You can also import owned levels from the previous entry into Hitman 3.) Rather than duck-and-cover shootouts, as you’d find in many other third-person games, Hitman 3 is about scanning your environment, discerning clues, learning about your targets, and, of course, knocking out poor civilians and stealing their outfits. You may have a gun, but the shooting mechanics aren’t nearly on par with, say Uncharted. In nearly every instance, you’re better suited playing stealthily. The result is a breathlessly tense game of cat and mouse—even in moments when you’re slowly strolling through a packed dance floor.

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A Good Match For: Fans of stealth, puzzles, travel, terrific fashion, and playing the same level ad infinitum to nail down a more creative solution.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a tight third-person shooter.

Read our review.

Find all* of the bananas.

Purchase From: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Target | Best Buy | Walmart


scorpio squad in gears 5 hivebusters
Screenshot: Microsoft
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Gears 5

You probably know what to expect from Gears 5. Like every Gears of War game before it, save for the excellent Gears Tactics (see below), it’s a cover-based, third-person shooter starring people with frighteningly large biceps. For the launch of the Xbox Series X and S, Gears 5 received a makeover, buffing the visuals and generally improving performance across the board. Those with compatible displays can now run the game at 120fps, and it’s safe to say that Gears 5 is one of the best-looking games on console right now. In early December, the game received the meaty Hivebusters expansion, which members of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate are able to snag for no extra cost. Starring three characters from outside the main cast, and featuring some innovative combat abilities—including one that restores your ammo—Hivebusters brings a fresh take to an old game. Gears 5 may have released in 2019, but it feels newer than ever.

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A Good Match For: Fans of third-person shooters. Anyone who enjoyed Gears 5 the first time around, in its less resplendent state.

Not A Good Match For: Players who’ve had enough of Gears. Series newcomers who aren’t willing to at least parse the game’s Wiki beforehand.

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Read our review, and our impressions of the Hivebusters expansion.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Target | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart


fenyx firing an arrow at a gryphon in immortals fenyx rising
Screenshot: Ubisoft
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Immortals Fenyx Rising

Don’t be fooled by its patently ridiculous name. Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the best open-world action-RPGs available on the new Xbox consoles. Published by Ubisoft, Immortals casts you as Fenyx, a fictional Greek warrior stranded by shipwreck on the fictional Golden Isle. Everyone on the island has been turned to stone, the Olympian deities are cleaved from their powers, and Typhon, the all-powerful monster of myth, is let loose from his deathless prison. It’s up to you to fix it all. Like plenty of other games, Immortals lifts a whole lot from the Greek mytheme. The moment-to-moment sword-swinging might seem familiar, too—especially to anyone who’s played a Ubisoft game in the past decade—but it’s punctuated by an astonishing array of physics-based environmental puzzles that wouldn’t be out of place in Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild. Immortals doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it combines disparate elements from other definitive games to leave a lasting impression.

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A Good Match For: Fans of recent Assassin’s Creed games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hades, and Adam Jensen (Elias Toufexis, the gravelly voice actor behind Deus Ex’s chiseled lead, is one of Fenyx Rising’s constant narrators).

Not A Good Match For: Anyone sick of open-world games and games based on Greek mythology.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Target | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart


guardians in destiny 2 beyond light
Screenshot: Bungie
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Destiny 2

Yes, Destiny 2 has been around the block, but it’s still got a spring in its step. Thanks to an early December next-gen optimization, it’s one of the tightest first-person shooters on the Xbox Series X and S. The annual expansion, Beyond Light, introduced players to a whole new region (the snowy wastes of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons) and further refined the compulsive nature of that loot grind. The shooting is still as tight as ever. And those with top-shelf displays can run Crucible, Destiny 2’s PVP mode, at 120fps, which rules for them. (Like Gears 5, the enhanced Destiny 2 is a real looker.) But the major, undeniable sell for Destiny 2 on Xbox is how easy it is to pick up and play. In November, Destiny 2: Beyond Light joined the Xbox Game Pass library. And those who’ve played on other platforms can easily carry their characters over.

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A Good Match For: Fans of first-person shooters, loot grinds, in-game lore text, deliciously pulpy sci-fi, and a never-ending stream of satisfying headshots.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a comprehensible story, or a competitive mode as tight as, say, Halo 3.

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Read our review of Beyond Light.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Target | Walmart


ori and the will of the wisps is one of the best games for the xbox series x and xbox series s
Screenshot: Moon Studios
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Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps was already one of the best platformers of 2020. Following a launch-day update for the Xbox Series X and S, it’s even better, and includes video settings that support supersampled 6K resolution at 60 fps. (If you have a fancy enough screen, the game can run in 4K at 120 frames per second.) The biggest knock against Ori and the Will of the Wisps was that, at launch, it was marred by some performance issues: lockups, screen stutters, things of that nature. All such issues are wholly eliminated on the Series X. Ori now leaps through the whimsical magic-forest of Niwen with the precision and dexterity of an Olympic gymnast. Menus and combat are smooth as butter, as are character animations. In short, one of 2020’s best platformers is officially one of its best-performing ones, too.

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A Good Match For: Fans of airtight platforming, Studio Ghibli-like art direction, and whimsical forest spirits.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for an easy game. Big criers.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Target | Walmart | Best Buy


assassins creed valhalla is one of the best games for the xbox series x and xbox series s
Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku
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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Round any corner in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and you’ll stumble upon something fascinating. Despite the game’s staggering size, you won’t find any traditional, cookie-cutter side-quests. Rather, Valhalla’s open-world take on 9th-century England and Norway is dotted with brief activities called World Events. They’re all bespoke, and vary from platforming challenges to environmental puzzles to brief, narrative vignettes. The narrative structure, too, consistently surprises. Alongside an overarching story, each one of the map’s dozen or so regions has its own self-contained set of missions. But recurrent characters pop up, giving you the feeling that you’re playing through (very murder-happy) seasons of a TV show. Combine all that with the RPG elements that made the more recent series entries (Origins and Odyssey) so awesome and you have a standout game. Oh yeah, and the hidden blade is back.

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A Good Match For: Fans of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Renaissance Faire attendees. Anyone with 1,645 hours to burn.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who has a fear of consequences; the choices you make in the main story will bite you in unexpected, Witcher-y ways.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Target | Best Buy | Walmart


Illustration for article titled The Best Games For The Xbox Series X And S
Screenshot: Enhance
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Tetris Effect: Connected

Here’s the pitch: Tetris, but with friends. And EDM. And an incandescent light show constructed from some of the snazziest particle effects in gaming. Yes, Tetris Effect: Connected is an audiovisual delight, one that packs even more punch since we’re not allowed to go to raves in 2020. As for how it plays, the foundation remains unchanged from Alexey Pajitnov’s 1984 original. But there are plenty of modal twists and reworks. The best is a multiplayer mode, called “Connected,” wherein you and two other players team up to “fight” against a series of bosses, who flip the script in unexpected ways. (Maybe you’ll have your board inverted, or you’ll find a super-sized brick in your queue.) After a minute or so, the music drops, your three boards fuse together as one, and you take turns placing pieces wherever you want—with the goal of clearing triple-wide lines—before reverting to your own solo space. It breathes new life into the most quintessential classic, all while paying homage to what made the original so enduringly special in the first place.

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A Good Match For: Fans of covers that sound like brand-new songs but retain the same tune. Anyone who’s spent hours playing Tetris on a smartphone and craves a bigger screen.

Not A Good Match For: Those with photosensitivity issues; the game warns you up front that the game could “trigger dizzy spells or epileptic seizures in a small percentage of people.”

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Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store


gears tactics is one of the best games for the xbox series x and xbox series s
Screenshot: The Coalition
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Gears Tactics

You know Gears of War as the brawniest Xbox series, but it’s also one of the brainiest ones. Gears Tactics, which first released on PC before receiving a console release alongside the Xbox Series X and S, trades cover-based third-person shooting for cover-based third-person tactics. Set before the events of the main series, you command Gabe Diaz (the father of Gears 5 protagonist Kate Diaz) and a small contingent of frighteningly muscular soldiers in XCOM-style tactical combat against foot soldiers of the Locust horde. Each unit falls under a different class, and each class has a robust skill tree, allowing you to customize your Gears’ talents beyond just “shoot real good and punch real hard.” Masochists will be thrilled to hear about a relentlessly punishing mode, Ironman, which prevents any back-tracking.

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A Good Match For: Fans of chess or XCOM. Sentient protein shakes.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone seeking a third-person shooter; just go play the excellent Gears 5 instead, which has also been revamped for Xbox Series X and S.

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Read our review, and our impressions of the console port.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Best Buy


yakuza like a dragon is one of the best games for the xbox series x and xbox series s
Screenshot: Sega
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Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon isn’t the best Yakuza game you can get. It is, however, maybe the best you can get on the Xbox Series X and S, since it’s the first to have been released with next-gen systems in mind, and is also the perfect place to start with the series if you’ve somehow never played one before and were put off by previous games’ reliance on real-time brawling. This one replaces that action gameplay with JRPG-style turn-based combat, which results in a far more chilled experience—or as chilled as kicking bikes into people’s faces before crushing them with a giant vibrator can be.

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A Good Match For: Yakuza fans, Yakuza newcomers, and anyone in between.

Not A Good Match For: The time-crunched; this is one massive game.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store | Amazon | Target | Best Buy


halo the master chief collection is one of the best games for the xbox series x and xbox series s
Screenshot: Mircosoft
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Halo: The Master Chief Collection 

What more is there to say? It’s Halo! We’re talking about the Xbox flagship. Halo: The Master Chief Collection compiles the mainline Halo games—Halo 1 through 4, plus add-ons for Reach and ODST—into one, tidy package, available on all Xbox consoles. But, for the Xbox Series X and S, The Master Chief Collection has been updated to allow for 4K resolution and heightened framerates. (As with Ori, those with compatible displays can run it at 120 fps, a massive boon for such a high-stakes shooter.) Multiplayer fans will be thrilled to hear that, right now, the community feels more alive than ever. You can queue up a match in seconds. You can drop into playlists for game types across multiple games, or curate matches to your liking, choosing individual Halos and modes piecemeal. (Team Slayer or nothing, folks.) The campaign, too, is better than ever, thanks to the visual enhancements. Make no mistake: Those notorious issues that plagued The Master Chief Collection in the past are but a distant memory.

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A Good Match For: Fans of shooters new and old. Anyone who wants to catch up on Halo before the eventual release of Halo Infinite, planned for sometime between now and the Great Journey.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking to conserve storage space; The Master Chief Collection clocks in at more than 120GB. Anyone itching to play Halo 5: Guardians, as Spartan-117’s most recent outing isn’t part of the Collection.

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Read our impressions, and our reassessment.

Purchase from: Microsoft Store


Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PS5 GamesThe Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Games On PS NowThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Games On Xbox Game PassThe Best Nintendo Switch GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android Games

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How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 2/8/2021: We’re closing in on that 12-game limit! Agent 47 hit the mark in Hitman 3.

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Update 12/25/2020: The recent add-ons and next-gen optimizations of Destiny 2 and Gears 5 make both old games feel brand-new and worthy of inclusion. We’ve also immortalized Immortals Fenyx Rising.

DISCUSSION

theantifanboy
Nick Ha

So hey, random question: have we decided how to abbreviate Xbox Series X|S?

XSXS? XBS? Just X|S?