The best Xbox Series X exclusive games of the year 2021 are here to grapple your soul. It’s a shame to admit it, but the Xbox One was an underwhelming console made even worse by disappointing games. Xbox Game Pass softened this blow a little bit, paving the way for the best deal in gaming. But Microsoft had a lot to live up to after its previous generation, and with the sudden delay of its flagship launch title, tons of worry was brewing in the community in regards to the future of Xbox Series X.
2021 is the first full year Xbox Series X has been on store shelves (not really because it’s sold out everywhere), and although this year wasn’t jam packed with games, there are quite a few worth playing. So without further ado, here are our favorite games on Xbox Series X.
- Here are the Best PS5 exclusive games of 2021
- See our Best Nintendo Switch games of 2021
- These are the Best co-op games of 2021
Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 presents a tranquil adventure throughout the spectacular corners of Mexico, and even if you’re not interested in cars, it’s worth playing. Beyond its staggering graphical fidelity and crisp environmental detail, PlayGround Games has done a good job making Forza accessible for those who aren’t experienced racers. On the game’s default settings, color-coded lines appear across the pavement to indicate when the player should speed up, slow down, or keep their pace.
And as the player progresses through races, the game will analyze their performance to see how often they win. If it notices the player is doing well, it will ask if they want to increase the difficulty. When first playing Forza Horizon 5, I couldn’t get close to my friends in a race. I was on Average difficulty at the start of the campaign, but after getting through it slowly, I ended on Expert and can now keep up the pace in races against other players. So even if you’re not sure that you’ll be good at it, Forza Horizon 5 is cleverly built to be appealing for both newcomers and veterans.
While Sable isn’t a traditional open world game, its focus on exploration and puzzle solving makes it a good pick if you’re looking for a moment of ephemeral peace. There’s a wonderful tranquility in riding a neon-esque glider throughout expansive desert biomes. As the sun sets overhead and the sounds of wind blowing through the shifting sands enter your headset, you’ll momentarily forget your troubles and be absorbed in the game’s world.
Not only is Japanese Breakfast’s “Glider” accompanied by my favorite moment in the game, but it’s the best song I’ve heard this year. When the track first started playing, I felt enveloped within the world as I rode my glider above the sand. Unfortunately, there have been many reports that the game has performance issues on Xbox consoles, and even when playing it on PC, I’ve experienced stuttering when there’s a lot going on at once. Regardless, we still think Sable is a journey worth taking.
Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life
Although Sea of Thieves launched in 2018, A Pirate’s Life brings a shipload of new stuff to do throughout its hazardous seas. If you were someone who played the game at its launch and wondered what it would look like with a focused campaign, this free expansion is worth trying out. And did we mention it’s based off The Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise? Gather a group of friends and go on adventures to save Jack Sparrow from the clutches of Davy Jones.
A Pirate’s Life makes for a great companion to the base game, as it allows for up to four players to go on a quest battling new enemy types and bosses based off of the iconic Disney franchise. It was surprisingly fun sinking into the deepest depths of the oceans fighting mer-people with powerful energy staves. This is most indicative of the game’s improvement overtime, as Sea of Thieves gets better and better with every update.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a technical wonder, giving players the opportunity to hop into a virtual plane and fly over detailed renditions of real places on Earth. While the game doesn’t have a specific goal or purpose, it’s worth spending an hour every once in a while exploring a new part of the world, especially somewhere you’ve never been before. I’ll never forget when a friend and I accidentally crashed into Mount Fuji and flew over the Taj Mahal.
It’s also fun to load into a city and try to find your home. These areas won’t look accurately detailed unless it’s a key location, but it’s still cool enough to try out. Flight Simulator is also quite graphically demanding on PC, but if you’re on Xbox Series X, it’s worth giving a try.
See our full Microsoft Flight Simulator review.
Halo Infinite is not only a return to form for Master Chief, but it exceeds previous entries on a mechanical level. Players will need to master their grappling hook and air dodge at the right times to emerge victorious from some of the game’s most deadly encounters, especially on Legendary difficulty. It boasts some of the series’ best boss fights, forcing you to cleverly utilize your weaponry and equipment to challenge each of their unique mechanics, with one wrong move resulting in a swift death.
All in all, Halo Infinite is plenty of fun. Unfortunately, we were unimpressed with the game’s insipid, riskless narrative and uninspired art direction. Much of its open-world boils down to the same few types of objectives, and although they’re enjoyable to do thanks to the game’s awesome gunplay, it quickly gets repetitive. Zeta Halo is the least interesting environment a Halo game has ever seen, lacking unique biomes and failing to deliver on the sense of grandeur the series is known for. But even with these issues, Halo Infinite is worth playing, especially if you can access its campaign for free with Xbox Game Pass. But the Halo Infinite multiplayer will leave a less sour taste in your mouth.
See our full Halo Infinite review.
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Self-described art critic and unabashedly pretentious, Momo finds joy in impassioned ramblings about her closeness to video games. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Brooklyn College and five years of experience in entertainment journalism. Momo is a stalwart defender of the importance found in subjectivity and spends most days overwhelmed with excitement for the past, present and future of gaming. When she isn't writing or playing Dark Souls, she can be found eating chicken fettuccine alfredo and watching anime.