The 10 best Xbox games of the decade
As Microsoft look forward with the all-powerful Xbox Series X in 2020, we take stock of the best Xbox games from the last decade. Have you missed any of these classics?
Microsoft redefined gaming in the 2000s. In a space that once upon a time only Nintendo, Sega, and Sony would fight for supremacy in, Microsoft helped lead the charge creating a whole new way for gamers to play in Xbox LIVE. While not a totally new idea, the sheer connectivity afforded to the Xbox brand of consoles eventually paved the way for the Xbox 360; a console which dominated thanks to the likes of Bungie, Epic and many other studios.
But over the last decade, nobody could deny that the Xbox brand has had a strange journey to where it sits now, with the most powerful console on the market, able to push games at 4K resolution and compete with home computers. Along the way, they’ve lost a substantial part of the market share they built over the previous generation as gamers were swayed by Sony’s PS4. But they’ve also gone back to the drawing board and revitalised the Xbox brand into something remarkable – something beyond a console. Much of that is down to the exclusive games the software giant’s dropped during the 2010s. Microsoft have taken risks with beloved studios and franchises, and helped turn indie titles into world-beaters. In no order, these are the best Xbox games from the last decade. Let’s jump in.
Forza Horizon 4
(Playground Games, Xbox One, PC)
A feature of the last few years for the Xbox One has been new games being released from a fan-favourite series, but with a new developer taking the reins. UK developer PlayGround Games may have started life making the original Forza Horizon title on Xbox 360, giving Forza creators Turn 10 a break to develop their next game, but Horizon 4 is an astonishing feat in every way, even making the series the favourite of the two sub-brands in some people’s eyes.
Taking all of the previous great work in the series, PlayGround liberally sprinkled what amounts to some “Burnout Paradise” magic onto Forza Horizon 4. There’s never a moment of boredom as speed round a lookalike version of Scotland, gaining points for literally everything you do. This car collectathon is driving bliss, and while it’s easily one of the best Xbox games, it’s also one of the best driving games of the past decade, full stop, especially now there's been brand new content added in the form of a battle-royale mode. Yes, you heard, a battle royale… with cars.
Gears of War 4
(The Coalition, Xbox One, PC)
It’s not easy to redefine a series that revolutionised a genre. Epic Games’ Gears of War franchise popularised cover-combat and had a gun with a chainsaw on it. New studio The Coalition’s first stab at a follow-up Gears of War game was made extra difficult because the previous mainline game ended a trilogy, closing out the story for many fan-favourite characters. Thankfully the series was in good hands, though, and The Coalition created a visually arresting take on Gears, added new characters we all cared about, and new, interesting mechanics that started the shift from Gears of War being a series merely about shooting things into a series about shooting things but thinking about it all, too.
Sea of Thieves
(Rare, Xbox One, PC)
Who doesn’t love being a pirate? After being relatively quiet for most of the Xbox One’s life, Rare did what Rare almost always do: ship something unique and incredible. Taking the charm you’d usually associate with a Nintendo game, Rare created a title that fostered a genuine community that would play by rules that weren’t even enforced. It’s a dangerous thing to trust the internet, but this online pirate-em-up is played in the right spirit. The rare spirit, some might say. From fishing to fighting, plundering to piloting your ship, there’s so much character and joy to be found in Sea of Thieves that makes it easily one of the best Xbox games out there, and one that's constantly evolving to add new ways of being a digital Jack Sparrow.
(Remedy Entertainment, Xbox One, PC)
As the masters of weird, Remedy can always be relied on to challenge perceptions and shake things up. Not content with making Quantum Break an absolutely gorgeous game to look at, they even wove in in strange time-based powers and a TV show. Yes, an entire TV show, with real actors and everything. The idea is that you play an episode of the game then watch an episode of the Quantum Break TV Show which would fill you in on the activities of the side characters.
In many ways Quantum Break’s combat paved the way for Remedy’s most recent (and excellent, but not Xbox exclusive) game, Control, utilising physics in much the same way and relying on you controlling the combat from wherever you see fit. Whether you’re slowing time or blinking in and out of existence to get the jump on your enemies, it’s fast-paced and exhilarating. Equal parts bizarre and brilliant, Quantum Break is an experiment that paid off in a big way for Xbox and for Remedy.
(Studio MDHR, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Switch)
A throwback to both old-timey cartoons, but also old-timey difficulty, Cuphead is a meticulously designed, beautiful-looking boss-rush-shoot-em-up that throws platforming into the mix as well. It also shows Microsoft’s dedication to not just bringing incredible new experiences to the Xbox platform, but its newfound commitment to indies, as well. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Cuphead is full of character and charm, but it’s a rewarding experience from start to finish, even offering ways to master it after the credits have rolled. It may have taken four years to get onto our consoles, but it’s one of the best indies you’ll ever play, and comfortably one of the best Xbox games around – and two years on from launch, no longer an exclusive either thanks to a Microsoft partnership with Nintendo,.
(Respawn Entertainment, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)
What do you do when you want to get people excited about a new first-person shooter? You get Respawn Entertainment involved, that’s what. The team behind Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare left Activision and reformed as Respawn in 2010, and their first game was an Xbox exclusive. Oh, and it featured wall running and giant mechs you could call in from space. This is FPS perfection with tight controls, beautiful movement and a feel that few other developers in the space can match. This game formed the basis for Titanfall 2, of course, but also the universe that Apex Legends is set in. Respawn are masters of their craft.
Forza Motorsport 7
(Turn 10 Studios, Xbox One, PC)
When you think racing games, you think Turn 10 and Forza. These days you also have to consider the phrase “ridiculous graphics”, as Forza Motorsport 7’s visuals blew our socks off, then our eyeballs out. We may well be getting new consoles in 2020, but for the past 10 years the Forza Motorsport has dominated the racing game sim genre, getting better and better with every passing iteration. The seventh game in the series brought customisable drivers and dynamic weather which, in cockpit view, is supremely difficult to master, especially when your jaw is on the floor because of how realistic it looks. One of the best racing games of the last 10 years, as well as one of the best Xbox games.
(343 Industries, Xbox 360, PC)
If The Coalition had it hard with Gears of War 4, 343 Industries had the impossible task of creating the first non-Bungie Halo game in the series and, again, had to reboot one of the most beloved titles in gaming. You can only use the phrase “finish the fight” so many times, so fans were left wondering what 343 would do. The answer was simple: give us more of what we wanted and start a new saga in the Halo universe. Focusing on the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana (among other things), Halo 4 kept the same brilliant action that made it so many people’s favourite FPS out there, but it modernised things and was just far more cinematic than before. One of the best Xbox games? You bet it was.
Ori and the Blind Forest
(Moon Studios, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
These days the phrase “metroidvania” is all the rage and developers everywhere are making their own twist on the genre, but it took one game, this game, to bring it back into vogue. Back in 2015 when Ori and the Blind Forest was first released, all we knew was that it looked and sounded stunning, and that perhaps the story would be one to pull on the heartstrings. We certainly didn’t expect to be in bits within the first 30 minutes of playing.
But the beauty belied the true nature of Ori and the Blind Forest. Moon Studios’ debut title was at times brutally difficult and required you to save as and when you felt the need and even then, only if you had enough mana to do so. This meticulously designed puzzle-platformer required precision and concentration as you upgraded and backtracked your way through the gorgeous forest trying to bring balance back to the world. A sequel (Ori and the Will of the Wisps) has been announced for 2020, and like Ori and the Blind Forest, we’d bet it’ll be one of the best Xbox games on lists like this at the end of the 2020s as well.
(The Coalition, Xbox One, PC)
After The Coalition gave us safety in Gears of War 4’s brilliant campaign, all thoughts shifted to that killer question: what next? In 2019 with the power of the Xbox One X most people assumed Gears 5 would look good, but nobody knew it’d be one of the best-looking console games ever made. Exquisite use of HDR lighting made storms feel almost real in the game Gears of War evolved into – not just something different, but something that belongs to The Coalition now. Even a killer audio mix elevated Gears 5 above the competition: this game sounds like war is happening.
An incredible array of modes (campaign, co-op, competitive, local, online, horde and even a new one called Escape) make Gears 5 one of the best-value propositions out there, but that wasn’t enough for the team. On top of all of this, The Coalition made the single-player campaign bigger than ever before, adding open-world elements, side-quests and huge environments to explore on a vehicle. Gears 5 could have popped some slippers on and been “more of the same”, but it was anything but, and even with a new console less than a year away, it’s one of the best Xbox games you could play. Utterly essential, compelling and quite simply breathtaking.