The 5 Xbox Series X games you should play first

Xbox Series X console
(Image credit: Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

If you’ve just purchased an Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S, the next step is to build up your game library. The only trouble, if you can call it that, is that Microsoft’s latest console plays thousands of games, and getting started can feel overwhelming.

Unlike the PS5 or Nintendo Switch, the Xbox Series X doesn’t have any truly exclusive titles. Every Xbox Series X/S game is also available on the PC, Xbox One or both. You can also stream a variety of Xbox games to iOS, Android and web browsers via Xbox Game Pass. In other words, Xbox is now a gaming ecosystem as much as it is a console brand.

Still, the Xbox Series X does have a secret weapon when it comes to its library: the “Optimized for Xbox Series X/S” lineup. These games run better on Microsoft’s latest consoles, offering better resolutions, frame rates and loading times than on the Xbox One or lower-end gaming PCs. 

If you’re one of the lucky few who owns an Xbox Series X (or if you bought an Xbox Series S for the holidays), read on for five titles that can kickstart your library. We've also got a look at the best Xbox Series X games coming in 2022 if you want to plan out your future gaming.

And if you’re still trying to find an Xbox Series X restock, Tom’s Guide can help, although be warned that it’s still an uphill battle.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

assassins creed valhalla

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

While you can play Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on any platform, the Xbox Series X is one of the best places to do it. 

The system’s high resolution makes the rolling hills and towering churches of medieval England look impressive. Better frame rates help with combat, while improved loading times mean that you can fast-travel all around the vast map in mere seconds. Furthermore, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a long, deep, involved game that can conceivably keep you busy for 100 hours or more. 

As such, Valhalla is an excellent choice if you need to play a long game while your wallet recovers from the initial console purchase. The story involves Eivor, a Viking who becomes embroiled in the never-ending war between Assassins and Templars.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Forza Horizon 5 isn’t just an excellent racing game. It’s one of the best Xbox Series X and Series S games period. This open-world racer takes place in Mexico, letting you explore the country’s mountains, beaches, cities, deserts and even ancient ruins. 

The gorgeous landscapes are one reason to play the game, but the varied gameplay is another. You can choose from more than 500 cars, from classic Mustangs and Jaguars to state-of-the-art Lamborghinis and BMWs. There’s a single-player campaign, plenty of multiplayer challenges and endless ways to customize your ride. 

Even if you have only a passing interest in the racing genre, Forza Horizon 5 is a worthwhile experience, simply because there’s so much to do.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite screenshot

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

“Xbox” and “Halo” are just about synonymous, and for good reason. The first Halo game and the original Xbox launched side-by-side, and it changed the world of console-based first-person shooters forever. 

Halo Infinite is the latest entry in the series, and it does two innovative things. On the single-player side, the campaign incorporates open-world elements, letting you explore Zeta Halo and take on side missions at your own pace. The multiplayer component, on the other hand, is completely free-to-play, letting a whole new audience dive into the campaign. 

Either way, you’re in for tight shooting, colorful graphics and a memorable pop-sci-fi aesthetic. If you want to catch up on Halo lore first, you can play the whole series via Game Pass.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

mass effect legendary edition

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

While you can play Mass Effect: Legendary Edition on the PS5, it’s just a backwards-compatible PS4 version. On Xbox Series X, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition gets the full next-gen treatment, with better graphics and smoother gameplay. 

In case you’ve never played Mass Effect, it’s a sci-fi/RPG trilogy where you play as a customizable hero named Commander Shepard. As you advance through the story, you’ll engage in tactical firefights, recruit a crack squad of experts to your party and shape the story through your moral choices. 

Paragons do the right thing, the right way; Renegades do the right thing by any means necessary. Your story choices persist from game to game, and your party members can live or die, depending on your decisions.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) review

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Every system needs a “zone out and chill” experience, and on the Xbox Series X, it’s Microsoft Flight Simulator. This popular PC game made its way to Xbox in 2021, and it works just as well on a TV screen as it does on a monitor. 

If you’ve played previous Microsoft Flight Simulator games, the mechanics here are pretty much the same: Choose from a variety of aircraft and fly to airports all around the world. 

What’s new this time is that the game incorporates real-world map data from Bing, meaning you can fly almost anywhere that exists in real life. You can up the difficulty and lean into the “sim” aspect, or just explore; the choice is yours.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.