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9 best Xbox series X games to play right now, from ‘Sea of Thieves’ to ‘Forza Horizon 4’

Adventure on the oceans, through the skies or even in characters’ minds with this range of top titles

Steve Hogarty
Tuesday 07 September 2021 13:46
<p>Microsoft’s newest console has a rapidly expanding library</p>

Microsoft’s newest console has a rapidly expanding library

It’s been almost a year since the Xbox series X launched, but Microsoft’s perpetually sold out next-generation console has already built up a small library of unmissable games to choose from.

A handful of these are genuine next-generation releases, but thanks to the console’s comprehensive backwards compatibility with older Xbox games, as well as the increasingly well-served Xbox Cloud Gaming platform, many of the best Xbox series X games are classic titles from years past.

Assuming you’ve managed to find the console in stock, we’ve pulled together a list of the best Xbox games you can play right now. These include vast open-world adventures like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Xbox-exclusive experiences like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Forza Horizon 4.

As the Xbox matures and new games are launched, we’ll keep adding to this list to keep you up to date with the best new games to jump into.

And if you’re struggling to get your hands on the Xbox series X, head over to our Xbox stock-tracking liveblog to be the first to know when it’s available.

Read more:

The best Xbox series X games for 2021 are:

‘Sea of Thieves'

Best: Multiplayer game

  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

Sea of Thieves is a massively multiplayer pirate game in which you and up to three friends take to the high seas to track down buried loot, fight skeleton armies, solve puzzles, argue over which way up the treasure map goes, and – if you’re mean – pelt other players with cannonballs. Each time you play feels like embarking on a thrilling new adventure, where you must co-operate and communicate with your buddies to manage the sails, steer the ship, navigate the seas and patch any leaks.

During 2020, Sea of Thieves became more than just a game. The deck of your ship was a place to socialise with distant friends, and the cartoonish vibe and low barrier to entry for inexperienced players made it an ideal stand-in for the local pub.

‘Yakuza: Like a Dragon'

Best: Action RPG

  • Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

An indescribably bizarre action roleplaying game, Yakuza: Like a Dragon follows the tale of a charismatic low-level gang member attempting to reintegrate into modern criminal society following an 18-year stint behind bars. The latest in a long-running series of games, Like a Dragon is the most approachable entry in years, casting off its convoluted cast of existing characters in favour of an entirely new bunch of misfits.

While broadly centred around classic, turn-based street combat, Like a Dragon’s real highlights are found in its goofy mini-games, its uncynical storytelling and weird little side-plots – such as one mission you can undertake for a club of nappy-wearing, adult babies – which are unlike anything else we’ve played.

‘Halo: The Master Chief Collection'

Best: Multiplayer FPS

  • Developer: 343 Industries, Bungie Inc, Saber Interactive, Rockstar Dundee, Certain Affinity, Splash Damage, United Front Games
  • Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

While Halo Infinite has been delayed until December, this compendium is the ideal way to tide you over until Master Chief’s return. Remastered to within an inch of their lives, each game in the decades-spanning series has received a graphical dusting-off to bring them in line with modern releases. Nostalgia-hounds can even switch between old and new graphics on the fly.

This dynamic and expanding compilation contains almost every piece of Halo content ever created, up to Halo 4, including every multiplayer map and game mode created for the series, the live-action series Halo: Nightfall and limited-edition multiplayer betas.

‘Gears 5'

Best: Shooter

  • Developer: The Coalition
  • Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

Gears of War has been around for as long as the Xbox, and has survived by never being afraid to ditch old ideas in favour of new ones. Gears 5 is the sixth in the series and grabs a bunch of the best features of the most popular third-person shooters that preceded it.

Light RPG elements, large open arenas and random loot mechanics combine with the series’s hallmark penchant for big-budget, over-the-top gunplay to create something that still feel inspired after 15 years. Visually updated for Xbox series X, Gears 5 looks stunning on Microsoft’s next-generation console.

‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla'

Best: Open-world adventure

  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

Set during the peaceful Viking migration to Britain in the 9th century, during which nothing got pillaged and nobody was hurt, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an open-world action RPG that places you in the horned helmet of Eivor. Armed with a giant axe and a longboat of your best Viking friends, you must establish and grow your own settlement in England amid the backdrop of an island fought over by warring kings.

The world of Valhalla is astoundingly pretty and breathes life, character and colour into a fascinating period of European history not often explored in games. Exploration is rewarded and combat feels skilful and challenging. This is the series at its absolute finest.

‘Psychonauts 2'

Best: Platformer

  • Developer: Double Fine
  • Publisher: Double Fine
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

Double Fine’s long-awaited sequel is a creative action-platformer in which you psychically infiltrate the kaleidoscopic brainscapes of a series of strange and brilliant characters.

You play Raz, a recently graduated psychonaut-in-training capable of delving into the minds of others to explore their thoughts and feelings. Each level is a theme park ride through a world based on your host’s sometimes frayed mental state, exploring heavy themes of mental illness with a disarming sensitivity.

‘Forza Horizon 4'

Best: Racing game

  • Developer: Playground Games
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

Whereas the Forza Motorsport series adheres rigidly to very serious simulated track racing, the Forza Horizon games throw themselves whole-heartedly into the raw, unbridled fantasy of driving cars really quickly through spectacular locations.

Launched in 2018, then upgraded in 2020, Forza Horizon 4 lets you tear around a compressed version of Britain encompassing everything from the Highlands, the Cotswolds and Edinburgh to the woodlands and moors of the South. It’s a distillation of the best the genre has to offer, into something approaching the perfect racing experience.

‘Microsoft Flight Simulator'

Best: Simulator

  • Developer: Asobo
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

By combining Bing satellite maps with a bunch of clever procedural generation techniques, Microsoft Flight Simulator contains the entire surface of the planet Earth to fly around as you please. You can fly from London to Beijing in a Boeing 747. You can fly past your mum’s house in a Cessna. Or you can explore parts of the world you’ve only ever dreamed of visiting. Everything from the last rivet on the wing to the correct propeller sounds has been considered.

An incredibly detailed simulation and a visual spectacle on Xbox series X, Flight Simulator can accommodate novice pilots as well as those who want the most authentic flight experience possible. Landing challenges and scenic tours add some structure to proceedings, but the real draw here is in simply exploring the skies.

‘Control: Ultimate Edition'

Best: Third-person shooter

  • Developer: Remedy
  • Publisher: 505 Games
  • Optimized for Xbox series X? Yes

The graphically improved Control: Ultimate Edition sees Remedy’s third-person shooter reborn as one of the most impressive looking games on Xbox series X right now. Raytracing technology creates more-believable reflections, and supercharged particle effects transform gunfights into dazzling storms of flying masonry and detritus.

The game itself is an enjoyable and lightly tactical shooter, but it’s the blended world of magical conspiracies and buttoned-down bureaucracy, the unpredictable level design, the clear X-Files influences and the twisting Lynchian plot that make Control one of the best and most memorable games of recent years.

Upcoming Xbox series X games

‘Far Cry 6’

  • Release date: 7 October
  • Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
  • Publisher: Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s open-world shooter is back in October. This time Far Cry sends us into a fictionalised and war-torn Cuba in the grip of a tyrannical dictator, played by Breaking Bad star Giancarlo Esposito.

Pre-order now

‘Forza Horizon 5’

  • Release date: 9 November
  • Developer: Playground Games
  • Publisher: Microsoft

Forza Horizon 5 leaves the bucolic idylls of Britain behind and takes the open-world racing series to sunny Mexico. Offering up a condensed version of the entire country to blast around, you’ll race through vast deserts, dense jungles and ancient ruins.

Pre-order now

‘Battlefield 2042’

  • Release date: 22 October
  • Developer: Dice
  • Publisher: EA

A multiplayer-only FPS, Battlefield 2042 is set in a near future besieged by the effects of climate change. Fighting takes place on a series of giant, unpredictable maps, where flash storms and tornados can tear up and rearrange the environment.

Pre-order now

‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’

  • Release date: 5 November
  • Developer: Sledgehammer
  • Publisher: Activision

Whereas EA has chosen to take us into the future, Activision will drag us back to the past with Call of Duty: Vanguard. This ostensibly serious World War 2 shooter focuses on the origins of a four-strong group of super-soldiers who, at some point, will have to fight zombies.

Pre-order now

‘Halo Infinite’

  • Release date: 8 December
  • Developer: 343 Industries
  • Publisher: Microsoft

Delayed for an entire year, Halo Infinite finally launches on Xbox and PC in December. The game follows on from the events of previous titles, but will stand as something of a series revival for the Xbox’s most recognisable mascot.

Pre-order now

The verdict: Xbox series X games

Exclusive to the Xbox, Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer swashbuckling experience you won’t find anywhere else. Get together with some friends online and it’s one of the most wholesome times you’ll have in front of your TV.

For something a little more sedate, take to the skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s not only a spectacular reproduction of the entire planet, but it’s a technical marvel on the Xbox series X, showcasing the capabilities of the tech company’s newest console.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on PS5 games and other tech offers, try the links below:

Not sure which of the new consoles you should buy? Here’s our guide to choosing between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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