The Xbox Series X and Series S make release on Tuesday, along with several new titles, 100 possibilities under the Xbox Game Pass and (literally) thousands of options in the system’s backward-compatible library.
With that many choices comes an obvious question: What should you try out on Day 1?
That’s a tough call. In diving through the game library over the past few weeks, I’ve discovered old games I loved as a kid, from Kameo to Banjo-Kazooie to the Fable trilogy. I also found some newer options that I’d meant to try but lost in the mix, like NieR: Automata, Gears 5 and Batman: Arkham Knight.
After crunching in a couple hundred hours of playtime since late October (apologies to my wife), I’m still just scratching the surface of what’s available. That said, a few games on Game Pass and optimized for the next-gen console have really stuck out, both in my past playing experience and in current playthroughs.
If you’re strapped for ideas, here are my rankings of the best games available for you to download on launch week.
1. Destiny 2
I admittedly come at this with a bit of bias. The Destiny franchise has been my game of choice since late 2014, and the title has brought me some great friendships and some of my most exciting gaming moments. But this pick is based on both value and what’s to come for the franchise with Tuesday’s Beyond Light expansion.
The base game, as well as two expansive pieces of downloadable content, are available via Game Pass going into the launch window for the Series X and Series S. That’s hundreds of hours of content with the option to extend your journey through the latest DLC, which takes Destiny in an enticing new direction for veteran and new players alike. There has never been a better time to dive into Bungie’s first-person looter-shooter.
2. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest released in March for Xbox One and PC, but Will of the Wisps will have a fresh coat of paint for next-gen consoles and is available via Game Pass. It’s tough to describe just how much the high-definition-range imaging and 4K capabilities affect the Ori experience without you seeing it for yourself, but definitely give this one a try. The game is extraordinary enough on its own, anyway.
3. No Man’s Sky
Another reprisal of a previous-gen game that has gone through a total overhaul as consoles have gotten new capabilities. Update 3.10 for No Man’s Sky, which has undergone a noteworthy transformation of its own since its much-maligned launch in 2016 brings with it some stunning visual changes as well as an expansion of multiplayer options, crossplay and other sandbox mechanics. This version of the game, which comes with a Game Pass subscription, is going to take up the bulk of my time when I’m looking for a palate cleanser from the usual shooter games.
4. Gears of War series
Speaking of shooters. Again, it’s tough to paint a picture of the updates, particularly for Gears 5, but if you’re looking for a game that hammers home how smoother and more detailed the graphics are on next-gen, it’s Gears 5. Multiplayer, in particular, really benefits from the makeover, and it’s another anchor in Xbox’s push to bring people to Game Pass.
5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If I were ranking these games based entirely on which title was the best overall, The Witcher 3 would be even higher on the list. However, this game’s time in the cultural zeitgeist has come and gone, and while it does look much-improved on the Series X, it doesn’t grip you the same way the visuals do in the first games on this list. All that said, I’ve played through The Witcher 3 four times now, and I can safely say it’s one of my top five favorite games of all time, regardless of platform. It’s a must-have in your library.
6. The Mass Effect series
This one seems like cheating, but the alarm bells started going off as soon as Xbox announced EA Play would be available with Game Pass: Every Mass Effect game is accessible on the Series X and Series S. Even more exciting news dropped Saturday as Bioware announced they are working on the next Mass Effect and a remastered version of the trilogy will be coming out in Spring 2021.
When I fired up the original Mass Effect for the first time, my Series X even remembered my profile’s avatar from back then (an Imperial soldier from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, duh), which brought on all kinds of feels. Fellow ESPN Esports editor Joe DeMartino is rejoicing over this addition, and I’m here to heap on the praise, too. For everything but Andromeda, of course.
7. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
You might be beginning to spot a trend here: All of these games, save Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, are available via Game Pass or some extension of it. That’s not intentional on our part; it is, however, an indication of Microsoft’s strategy for this generation, which head of Xbox Phil Spencer addressed in his interview with ESPN.
Backward compatibility, multi-platform options for playing and accessibility to titles through subscriptions are the publisher’s way of differentiating itself from competitors. Keeping The Master Chief Collection, which was previously available on PC, in the subscription package is another example of playing out those initiatives, and this package is a good way to scratch your Halo itch while waiting for the release of Infinite.
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8. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Xbox buyers get the privilege of trying out Ubisoft’s latest edition of this storied franchise a full two days before PlayStation 5 stans get their hands on it, and the game is well worth that extra time. Valhalla’s Viking-centric storyline offers a similar breaking of the mold to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, with Norse mythology as a focal point for a distinct approach to the series. If you want some more insights on the latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, fellow ESPN Esports editor Brian Bencomo wrote about his first impressions and takeaways on Valhalla. An added bonus for baseball fans: Cody Bellinger of the World Series-winning Los Angeles Dodgers has a cameo in the game as Otta Sluggasson, who swings around a “big ol’ tree trunk,” according to the first baseman.
If you’re into action role-playing games and like a bit of fourth wall-breaking, this game is for you. CrossCode surged back into the spotlight when it released on consoles in July, and the title has backward compatibility with the Xbox as well as Game Pass availability. It’s the closest thing to a hidden gem in our top 10, with plenty of quests, a fascinating storyline and a feel-good story of crowdfunding and years of development leading up to its release.
10. Fallout: New Vegas
The greatest game in the series gets the Game Pass nod going into Tuesday, and even without optimization for the next-gen, Fallout: New Vegas gets some buffs from the jump to 4K and HDR imaging. If you’re up for another nostalgia play or making the most of your subscription, there aren’t many better ways to do it.
11. Wasteland 3
This is just such a strange, grungy and satisfying game. Wasteland 3 offers you a wealth of options on every playthrough, and unlike many titles that tout the importance of decision-making, this one actually follows through in sometimes shocking ways. The entirety of the Wasteland collection is also available on Game Pass if you want to get your feet wet with earlier renditions of the series.
12. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
An absolutely beautiful game that made waves in 2017 and reeled in more than a half-dozen awards in the gaming industry, Hellblade is a harrowing journey with a poignant message about mental health with Celtic and Norse mythology interweaved. With Hellblade II likely coming to Xbox One, the next-gen consoles and PC in 2021, now is a good time to get a free taste of one of the most surprising successes of the last few years.
13. Drake Hollow
I admittedly hadn’t heard of this game until I got to the Game Pass screen on the Series X, but seeing it was among the most popular downloads off the service made me give it a try. The result: a refreshing action-strategy game with adorable characters, interesting mechanics and a surprising amount of complexity. I’ve only had a taste of what Drake Hollow has to offer, but it made me want more, and it’s one of a few games on this list available only on Xbox and PC.
14. The Fable series
OK, OK. Forget Fable III exists if that makes it easier for you. This series was revolutionary at its start and a leader in the RPG industry at its peak, and getting to walk those old roads again was an absolute joy. The biggest hook of Game Pass, it seems, stems from these nostalgic plays; you get some of the new, but you also get a lot of the old, including games you’d be dusting off to play if your older consoles still worked. With the core of original console natives aging and companies like Nintendo putting out things like Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Switch and Sony offering the PlayStation Plus Collection, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the years to come.
15. Watch Dogs: Legion
This one feels kind of obligatory because it is one of the new titles coming out for next-gen consoles and my colleague Brian Bencomo has really enjoyed the game’s core mechanics. Here’s what he had to say about Legion:
“I love dystopian stories, so Watch Dogs: Legion, set in a near-future dystopian London, is right up my alley. You start off the game by choosing to play as one of 12 operatives, each with their own unique traits — such as hacking abilities, access to vehicles, medical expertise, etc. — that can come in useful throughout your missions to liberate London. But don’t stress too much about which one you choose. The really cool part about this game is getting to recruit anybody you come across in the city as an operative. I recruited a construction worker in one mission who not only gave me access to construction sites but one of his unique traits was the ability to call on a huge hover drone that he could hop on to get me access to otherwise hard to reach locations.”
The best of the rest:
16. NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition
17. Final Fantasy VII (original)
18. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
20. Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition
21. Banjo-Kazooie series (Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts)
22. Night in the Woods
23. State of Decay series
24. Final Fantasy IX
25. Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition
26. Dishonored 2
27. Sea of Thieves
28. DOOM Eternal
29. Batman: Arkham Knight
30. Untitled Goose Game
31. The Talos Principle
32. The Bard’s Tale series
33. What Remains of Edith Finch
34. Five Nights at Freddy’s series
35. The Outer Worlds
36. It Lurks Below
37. Frostpunk: Console Edition
38. Dead by Daylight
39. The Walking Dead Telltale series
40. Monster Hunter: World
41. For the King
42. Resident Evil 7 biohazard
43. Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2
44. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
45. Ninja Gaiden II
47. ARK: Survival Evolved
49. Middle Earth: Shadow of War
50. Ninja Gaiden II
51. Overcooked! 2