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Best Xbox Series X games in 2021: The best Xbox games out now

Best Xbox Series X games in 2021: The best Xbox games out now
(Image credit: Xbox)

The best Xbox Series X games may be few and far between in terms of exclusives, but there are a ton of great games you can play on Xbox. Microsoft has definitely had an uphill climb since its biggest launch title, Halo Infinite, was delayed, but it’s better than getting a subpar Halo game. Besides, most console launches have a rocky start before they really get good, and there is already a decent list of the best Xbox Series X games you can play now before the flood gates open.

Of course, what’s best for the Xbox Series X is also best for the Xbox Series S — check out our Xbox Series X review and Xbox Series S review to find out which console is right for you. Microsoft’s latest console has several impressive features that even top the PS5 in some scenarios. However, I more than anyone, know that it’s easy to regret buying the Xbox Series X on day one.

Of course, it’s going to take awhile before the best Xbox Series X games you can play are actually developed by a team within Xbox Game Studios. As of right now, most titles are from third-party developers, so they’re not unique to Xbox, but they’re still great games that you can play on this platform. Besides, there are quite a few exciting titles on the way, like Halo Infinite, Fable and Perfect Dark. Also, check out our System of the Stars piece, where we meet the therapist using videos games to teach mental health. If you're looking to get into streaming, check out our Elgato Stream Deck MK.2 review.

While we wait for these potentially ground-breaking games to give us a taste of what next-gen is supposed to feel like, here are the best Xbox Series X games that you can play today.

What are the best Xbox Series X games?

You’re not going to find a lot of exclusives on this list, but you are going to find good games nonetheless. The one game that PS5 didn’t get its hands on is The Medium, which weaves an engaging mystery with satisfying problem solving elements by putting you in the shoes of someone battling the world's traumas. However, it really isn’t for everybody due to its serious themes. As far as AAA titles go, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla offers impressive exploration and gorgeous world-design that are too immersive to pass up.

There are smaller titles like Little Nightmares 2, which is a 3D-puzzle platformer with a side-scrolling camera. Little Nightmares 2 is an adrenaline-pumping adventure with an unpredictable, thought-provoking ending that will leave you aggravated and afraid. Then there are those annual games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. However, this time around CoD delivers one of the most compelling campaign modes in the series’ history.

If you’re looking for the essential co-op experience, you can’t go wrong with It Takes Two. It Takes Two introduces a head-butting, married couple, Cody and May, and throws them into an unwilling journey full of shenanigans that challenge them to repair their relationship. It boasts tons of superb puzzles, gorgeous worlds and exciting mechanics. If you’re looking to be a world-class assassin, check out Hitman 3. It continues the series with striking, exotic locales that are perfect for stealthy murders. Of course, there are also a number of Xbox One games that are getting updated for next-gen, so those also count as some of the best Xbox Series X games.

The best Xbox Series X games you can play today

1. Twelve Minutes

Twelve Minutes best xbox series x games

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

You can feel the passion in this project — kicking around in Luis’ head and becoming a reality over the course of several years since the prototype in 2015. 

The result is an interactive thriller unlike anything you’ve played, for better and for worse. Twelve Minutes is an enthralling story with indie intrigue told through lofty AAA production values and brilliant performances from Ridley, McAvoy and Dafoe.

But this new and exciting experience is hampered by clunky controls and its own real-time looping construct. In these moments, the gameplay gets in the way and can feel a bit frustrating. Plus, in a bit of praise disguised as a complaint, it’s over all too soon. I’d love to see what the team cooks up by applying this formula to a variety of scenarios because this brief glimpse is short-lived.

Twelve Minutes isn’t for everyone, but fans of the genre are in for an unforgettable treat.

— Jason England

See our full Twelve Minutes review.

2. The Medium

The Medium review best xbox series x games

(Image credit: Bloober Team)

As you might have guessed, The Medium is a psychological horror game heavily baked in trauma, and the entire game is about dealing with the manifestation of that trauma.  Even just in the few minutes of the game, we know that this is going to be a messed up story. Listen, if you’re into psychological horrors, The Medium will be right up your alley. 

I won't speak to how well it handles its themes, but the overall mystery about how this resort turned into a playground for evil spirits is interesting. And for a game that’s only $50, I wasn’t expecting The Medium to look spectacular, but my expectations were crushed by a gorgeous, detailed world that fooled me into thinking that my poor old graphics card was capable of ray tracing. This is one of the few games not available on PS5 right now, so there’s some exclusivity in it being one of the best Xbox Series X games.

— Rami Tabari

See our full The Medium review.

3. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Assassin's Creed Valhalla best xbox series x games

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is my first AC game since Unity, so I didn't get to experience the RPG transformation that took place in Origins. I've only dabbled in Odyssey, so I really didn't know what to expect with Valhalla. The pessimist in me thought I would find a bloated, aimless open-world action RPG, but what I actually found was something more carefully crafted.

Don’t get me wrong, Valhalla has its fair share of issues, and it doesn’t really keep up with other big action-adventure RPGs currently out there now or launching soon. However, the moment that Assassin's Creed Valhalla clicked with me was when I roamed the lively snowy peaks of Norway and randomly encountered the Elk of Bloody Peaks only to go axe-to-antler with it at the edge of a glowing pool of water on a mountaintop. It was immersive and magical.

Between its fun combat and stealth mechanics, immersive exploration and gorgeous world design, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a great game. It’s easily one of the best Xbox Series X games available now.

— Rami Tabari

See our full Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review.

4. Little Nightmares 2

Little Nightmares 2 best xbox series x games

(Image credit: Future)

Not only does Little Nightmares 2 elicit explosive emotions with its challenging levels (nothing is more frustrating than failing to escape a monster by a razor-thin margin), but it will knock you off your seat with scream-inducing jump scares and exhilarating chases that require parkour expertise.

From heart-tugging “oh, no!” moments to repeating levels a zillion times, the Bandai Namco-published IP had me on the verge of tears more than I’d like to admit. Little Nightmares 2 is an infuriating game, but once you finally escape that relentless enemy without dying for the umpteenth time, a euphoric rush of fulfillment takes over and neutralizes the frustration-filled fury that made you want to flip a table. Little Nightmares 2 is like a toxic relationship; it drags you through a turbulent rollercoaster of emotions, but you’re not ready to hop off because it’s far too thrilling.

Little Nightmares 2 — propelled forward by a cute, paper bag-headed protagonist named Mono and his yellow raincoat-wearing sidekick Six — is far more sinister than the original game, subjecting you to a spine-tingling, dialogue-free tale, a host of unnerving, humanoid brutes, and brain-stimulating puzzles that’ll drive you mad.

— Kimberly Gedeon

See our full Little Nightmares 2 review.

5. It Takes Two

It Takes Two best xbox series x games

(Image credit: EA)

It Takes Two is the essential co-op experience, presenting an amalgamation of mechanics and designs originating from the most revered multiplayer genres. It refuses to let the player rest, barraging them with plenty of excellent ideas. Although not every one of these ideas stick, they always feel different enough to justify their existence.

Both narratively and mechanically, the game expects the player to travel a mile a minute as they explore new worlds, gain new abilities and decipher clever puzzles. As a cherry on top, all of this is set to an adorable backdrop featuring a bickering couple pushed along on their journey by an irksome book of love.

— Mohammad Tabari

See our full It Takes Two review.

6. Hitman 3

Hitman 3 best xbox series x games

(Image credit: IO Interactive)

Hitman 3 gives you the opportunity to stealthily pulverize your target into a pile of flesh by shoving her into a massive grape grinder. Hell yeah! Between the blood and the red wine, nearby NPCs (tattlers who’ll rat you out if they spot your malicious deed) are none the wiser. Muhahaha! Hitman 3 whisks you away to picturesque cities such as Berlin, Dubai and Mendoza. The folks at IO Interactive rarely disappoint when it comes to Agent 47’s killing-spree locations.

It continues to offer what many gamers love about this badass assassin video-game series: the ability to use your own creativity to covertly kill your targets. Although Agent 47 carries a gun, you’re encouraged to find strategic ways to make your murders look like “freak accidents.” There are truly some memorable, buzzworthy mission stories that won my heart in the Hitman series.

— Kimberly Gedeon

See our full Hitman 3 review.

7. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War best xbox series x games

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War arrived at an interesting time for the series as the annual installment is, in some ways, competing against the company’s own property in the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone released in early 2020. Overcoming that free offering is a tall order for a series that is predominantly known for its multiplayer content, which is excellently served up by Warzone.

Cold War needs to offer something that you can’t get from Warzone; in some regards it certainly achieves that. Not only does it have a campaign mode, but it is probably my favorite CoD campaign of all time. It also offers a number of new multiplayer modes that you won’t find in Warzone. I enjoyed some fantastic moments in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, both in the campaign and the hours that I’ve spent playing multiplayer.

— Sean Riley

See our full Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review.