Microsoft is continuing to improve the capabilities of Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. The company recently announced the consoles would take advantage of new AMD tech to boost resolutions and framerates even further. It’s an exciting time for Xbox owners, and with a massive catalog of excellent titles already available, IGN has curated this list of the best games you can play right now on your new Xbox.
With a few big releases having already hit in 2021, we’ve updated our list to feature only games with dedicated Xbox Series X|S enhancements — no more Xbox One backward-compatible games.
Whether you’re diving into an all-new adventure, getting the most out of your gaming TV with 4K 120Hz gameplay, or revisiting an old favorite through backwards compatibility on Xbox, these are the IGN staff’s picks for the ten best Xbox Series X|S games.
Most recent updates were made on May 23, 2021.
More on the best of Xbox:
The Best Games to Play on Xbox Series X|S
15. The Medium
Depending on when you’re reading this, The Medium might still be the ONLY actual next-gen exclusive for Xbox (i.e. it’s not also available on Xbox One). In this case, it’s because The Medium is basically running two game engines at once, and sometimes you control both at once, guiding Marianne through both the regular world of the living and the spirit world. The Medium is a psychological thriller a la Alan Wake and, thanks to its inclusion on Xbox Game Pass, is a Series X game you’ve got no reason not to check out.
14. Gears Tactics
Translating the brutal, brooding Gears of War universe and its cover-based action into a top-down, X-COM-style tactics game, Gears Tactics is an excellent turn-based tactics game that does a fantastic job of melding Gears’ famous style and action with the mechanics. While it’s lighter on the macro strategy elements than one might expect from an X-COM-like, its campaign fleshes out the expanding Gears lore, leaves a great impression with some clever, Gears-appropriate original ideas, and looks fantastic doing it. That’s especially true with Xbox Series X optimization where Gears Tactics shines at 60 FPS and 4K UHD, with enhanced textures, increased world detail and fast loading times, bringing it on par with the best versions of the game on any platform.
13. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios’ excellent Ori and the Will of the Wisps builds on the first game’s fun foundation without bogging it down or becoming overcomplicated, which is the best praise you can give a sequel. It stays true to the spirit of the original, doubles down on what made it great, and gives you more stake in the world and options to navigate it. And now on Xbox Series X, Moon has pushed the already jaw-droppingly gorgeous game to new heights at 120 FPS and 4K UHD, with native HDR support, and even a 6K resolution supersampled rendering mode at 60 FPS. When paired with the dynamic high-range audio, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the absolute best way to play this heartfelt followup of the little spirit that never gives up on its friends.
Last year, IGN spoke with Moon Studios to discuss the potential of a new Ori game.
12. No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky Next is the story that the entire industry points to when looking for a comback tale and it’s well deserved. Hello Games managed to continue supporting No Man’s Sky with several updates that added quality of life features, like Expeditions that add a new set of challenges you can play with your friends, or the overhauled space stations, new enemies, cross-platform bases, and a ton of other community asks. Hello Games really does deserve credit because what they’ve created is beloved by players everywhere.
11. Control Ultimate Edition
Control was already a gorgeous dive into a delightfully strange adventure and the Ultimate Edition brings it up to shiny, 4K beauty. With two performance modes for the Xbox Series X (Performance Mode targets 60fps and Graphics Mode targets 30fps with ray tracing on Series X), you can choose to the look and feel of the destruction you bring to the Federal Bureau of Control. In Jesse Faden’s search for her brother, she finds herself at the bureau. Not only is she suddenly put in charge of the bureau upon her arrival, but also needs to figure out how to save it from an invasion by otherworldly beings called the Hiss. Doing so is a joy with Control’s excellent combat mechanics that lend themselves to your playstyle as you unlock new weapons, powers, and upgrades for both. The collectibles and side stories are fantastically written as well. Control Ultimate Edition also includes both DLC, so you also have a chance to reunite with a certain Remedy character who wrote himself into a peculiar position.
10. MLB The Show 21
Xbox-owning baseball fans have been waiting an entire console generation to play a great simulation of America’s pastime once again, and thanks to MLB making Sony take the phenomenal MLB The Show multiplatform, it is now here on Xbox Series X. This year’s game brings a long-requested feature, a stadium creator, as a next-gen exclusive option, while continuing to deliver a fantastic looking, sounding, and playing baseball game to the field, with great modes like the long-running Road to the Show as well as newer favorites like March to October.
9. Destiny 2
Destiny 2′s new seasonal model was met with a bit of hesitance at first, but what Bungie has delivered is instead a compelling narrative that intertwines story beats from season to season. The fact that the game had major enhancements on the Sereis X including an FOV slider and 120hz mode in crucible and 60hz across all modes only adds more reasons to give this one a shot if you have the TV to support all the frames you can handle. The fact that it has been added to Game Pass only sweetens the deal bringing more players into the fold. Whether you’re looking to push back the darkness with Stasis or just shoot things with cool guns Destiny has proven the test of time and keeps players coming back.
8. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Halo: The Master Chief Collection now collects six Halo games all under one digital roof – everything except Halo 5: Guardians. It’s been torn down to the studs and rebuilt in grand fashion, and even better, it’s been upgraded AGAIN for Xbox Series X with support for 120fps gameplay. Crazy to think that these games were 480i/30fps the first time we played them…
The series’ next entry, Halo Infinite, is due out later this year. A recently revealed Halo Infinite calendar showcased artwork from the upcoming shooter, which potentially hinted the potential return of a fan-favorite vehicle, the Chopper.
Best 4K Gaming TV For PS5 and Xbox Series X
7. Forza Horizon 4
One of the greatest racing games ever made – and the highest-rated Microsoft exclusive on Xbox One to date – Forza Horizon 4‘s Series X refresh absolutely slashes loading times, making its slightly laggy menu shuffling and car switching a thing of the past (even for players with enormous, 700+ car garages).
The Xbox One X enhanced version’s 1080p/60fps performance mode becomes 4K/60fps here on Series X, too – although, curiously, there are a few flourishes from the Xbox One X’s 30fps quality mode that have (hopefully temporarily) gone missing. Forza Horizon 4 may be a couple of years old, but it’s never too late to get on board; new, free cars are still being injected into the game every month.
6. NBA 2K21
Don’t confuse this with the game you may have already bought on Xbox One – NBA 2K21 on Xbox Series X is a totally new, built-for-next-gen version that has different game modes, tech, visuals, and more. And it looks fantastic. In fact, this might be the most “next-gen” looking game of the Series X launch lineup. It’s a pretty good basketball sim too!
5. It Takes Two
Admittedly, It Takes Two won’t exactly melt your GPU with its graphical intensity. Is it a nice looking game with a whimsical, fairy-tale tone and graphics to match? Yes, most certainly. But you need to play It Takes Two (with a friend or loved one either on the couch or via online play, of course, since It Takes Two cannot be played alone) because it is simply one of the best and most unique multiplayer experiences you can find these days. Writer-director Josef Fares – yes, he of “F*** the Oscars!” fame – follows up the equally excellent A Way Out with this, a story about a failing marriage that might just be able to be saved thanks to the couple being turned into children’s dolls and forced to work together to find their way back to their human forms. Play it and we promise you’ll smile.
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yes, it’s often silly, ridiculous, and features a side mission in which you have to deliver formula to a gangster who dresses up and acts like a baby, but when you get back on the main story path, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is one of the best video game stories of 2020.
Ichiban Kasuga and his loyal party of down on their luck misfits are all lovable in their own quirky ways, and absolutely live up to the high standard set by Kiryu, Majima, and the rest of the Yakuza series mainstays. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is funny, emotional, expertly acted both in English and Japanese, and is just an all-around wonderful RPG that pays homage to the genres roots.
Following the success of Like a Dragon, the Yakuza series will remain a turn-based RPG moving forward.
3. Hitman 3
Agent 47’s latest (and for now, last) outing is not only a much better game than its two last-gen predecessors, it’s a much prettier one too. Hitman 3 has some truly breathtaking scenes from an eye-candy perspective, and of course it runs great on the Xbox Series X as well. The first mission in Dubai will get you hooked, but the remaining five – including the second one, which is essentially like a playable version of the fantastic film Knives Out – will keep your new Xbox powered on as you try out the myriad ways to take out your targets.
IO is now working on Project 007, a new James Bond game. The developer is also working on new IP, which is rumored to be an Xbox-exclusive fantasy game.
2. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla wasn’t built exclusively for next-gen, but it’s impossible not to look at it running on the Xbox Series X and marvel at the sheer beauty and impressive detail of its open-world. It’s hard not to get stuck focusing on the stunning lighting and thick atmosphere of each environment and as you pillage, plunder, and build a kingdom in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. Valhalla’s scope, scale, and lightning-fast load times prove the series is poised to expand its tried-and-true formula on the power of new hardware.
Valhalla’s first major DLC, Wrath of the Druids, is now available. IGN’s review said “the new Irish setting adds only a few genuinely fresh takes on the process and a handful of new and interesting fights.”
1. Gears 5
While it’s a bit of a backhanded compliment to say that 2019’s Gears 5 is arguably the most visually impressive game on the Series X at launch, the fact remains that the already-gorgeous Gears of War sequel has been dialed up to take advantage of Microsoft’s new console. Better lighting, raytracing, 120fps support in Versus multiplayer — the bottom line is that if you skipped Gears 5 last year, the Series X is a great place to play it for the first time.
Upcoming Xbox Series X Games
Next up for Xbox Series X|S owners are the next-gen versions of The Elder Scrolls Online and Metro Exodus on June 15 and 18. The action-RPG Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is out later in the month on June 22, followed by Bandai Namco’s stylish action-RPG Scarlet Nexus on June 25.
Moving into July, we have F1 2021 on July 16, the JRPG Cris Tales on July 20, and the isometric action-RPG/twin-stick shooter The Ascent on July 29.
And there’s sure to be even more Xbox games announced during E3, so stay tuned to IGN for all the latest.
Updates: On May 23, Red Dead 2, Sekiro, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Watch Dogs Legion were removed, while The Medium, Gears Tactics, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, No Man’s Sky, Control Ultimate Edition, MLB The Show 21, Destiny 2, It Takes Two, and Hitman 3 were added. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Gears 5 also swapped positions on the list.
Those are our recommendations for the best game to play on Series X|S right now – let us know what’s on your list that didn’t make ours in the comments! And be sure to check out how the Xbox Series X stacks up against the PS5, and have a look at what we love about Microsoft’s new console and where we think it needs some work.