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The best Xbox Series X games in 2021

an assassin's creed valhalla screenshot - our top pick for the best Xbox Series X games
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

We've had 12 months with the next-gen consoles so we've now got a healthy clutch of titles to add to our picks for best Xbox Series X games, as well as  games on the the Xbox Series S

While some of these games are still cross-generation titles, many can put the power of the Xbox Series X to the test, offering improved visuals and frame rates, as well as tapping into Quick Resume for quickly swapping between games. 

There are also a suite of 30 optimized games to try our, as well as a whole host of backward-compatible games that reach back to the original Xbox. Do keep checking back with Tom's Guide, as we’ll build out this list as more games come out for the now current-gen Xboxes.

Some of these games may pop up in the Black Friday deals and our selection of Black Friday video game deals, so do keep an eye on those, even after the sales period has closed as some discounts may still be available.

1.  Assassin’s Creed Valhalla 

best xbox series X games - assassin's creed valhalla

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the latest entry in Ubisoft's long-running historical action/stealth series. This time around, you'll take control of Eivor: a Viking warrior, who must establish a new home for his clan in the wilds of medieval England. All of the usual Assassin's Creed activities are here - scouring the countryside for quests and treasure, hunting down Templar agents, building up your arsenal of stealth and combat tools, and so forth. But this time around, you'll also build a settlement, travel in a longship and raid monasteries, as any good Viking should. 

On Xbox Series X, Assassin's Creed Valhalla loads quickly and aims for a steady 4K/60 frames per second performance. Not only is the game gorgeous, but it runs seamlessly, and never makes you wait long to jump back into the action, whether you're fast-traveling across the map or retrying a difficult combat encounter.  - Marshall Honorof

Assassin's Creed Valhalla won a "highly recommended" honor for "best PS5/Xbox Series X game" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

2.  Gears 5

It could be argued that when Gears of War 4 came out, the Gears franchise was running out of a bit of steam, at least on the single-player side. But Gears 5 is a triumphant return to form for the series. Naturally, it comes with flashy cutscenes full of the bombast one expects from a Gears game. But it also dips its toes into the realms of horror, teasing out a creeping dread between bouts of frenetic action. The fundamentals of a Gears game are still present, with the satisfaction of nailing a quick reload still tickling the action game glands. 

Gears 5 is also a very pretty game, as in "bite-the-back-of-your-hand" pretty. The extra power of the Series X ramps up the texture and shadow details, as well as adding a form of "lite" ray tracing. Running at 4K with a pretty stable 60 fps is basically the only way to play Gears 5. And it’s on Xbox Game Pass, so you can get ahold of it easily. - Roland Moore-Colyer

3. Forza Horizon 4

What do you get if you combine the leafy, quiet countryside of Britain with high-octane supercars and hot hatches? The answer is Forza Horizon 4: an open-world racing game based in the land of tea and quiet tutting. 

As a flagship 4K game for the Xbox One X, Forza Horizon 4 runs even smoother on the Xbox Series X, with it easily hitting 60 fps. And the game looks even better too, with boosted reflections, shadows, and particle effects. (The latter is particularly noticeable when you overcook a corner and go flying off into an impeccably farmed field or flowing river.) Forza Horizon 4 was a stellar racing game on the Xbox One, and now it's even better on the Series X. - Roland Moore-Colyer

4. Sea of Thieves  

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to fill the boots of a semi-cartoon pirate sailing the open seas with four fellow shipmates, plundering islands and sinking other ships just for the sheer joy of it? If the answer is yes, then Rare’s Sea of Thieves is the game for you. 

What started out as a bit of a thin experience on the Xbox One and PC has matured into a much deeper game full of secrets, including a gigantic kraken to take on. The optimized version for the Xbox Series X will run at 4K and a smooth 60 fps, making the whole experience plain sailing on Microsoft's new flagship games console. - Roland Moore-Colyer

5. Ori and the Will of the Wisps 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

(Image credit: Xbox)

Following on from the critically-acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another fantastic chapter in the sumptuously detailed 2D platform game. What you get here isn’t just a generic platformer, but an open world based in a forest made up of multiple regions, styled to come alive in 2D. The game is stuffed full of attention to detail, from the way background art shifts as you move Ori through the world, to the creepy movements of enemies. And it’s all punctuated by a soaring music score that almost tells a story by itself. 

This game already ran well on the Xbox One X. But on the Series X, and indeed the Series S, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will run at a super-smooth 120 fps, if you have the hardware to take advantage of the frame rate. As it’s part of Xbox Game Pass, there’s very little excuse to miss out on Ori and the Will of the Wisps. - Roland Moore-Colyer

Ori and the Will of the Wisps won "best graphics" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

6. Gears Tactics 

If Gears 5 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown were to have a child, Gears Tactics would be it. The game merges the characters, antagonists and weapons of the Gears series with a top-down turn-based strategy game. It sounds like a tricky proposition to pull off, but Gears Tactics manages to do it, cleverly translating third-person action into a strategy game. 

However, Gears 5 isn’t about the subtle moves of XCOM, but rather about maximizing your kills to extend your "turn" as much as possible, thereby conveying that Gears action feeling, despite the lack of a third-person viewpoint. On the Xbox Series X you’ll get better textures, performance and load times, again making the new console the best place to play a Gears game. - Roland Moore-Colyer

7. Resident Evil Village

Best Xbox Series X games - Resident Evil Village review

(Image credit: Capcom)

While Resident Evil is a franchise best associated with PlayStation, it's been a multiplatform series for a while and the latest entry in the series, Resident Evil Village, is great on Xbox Series X. On Microsoft's console you get access to ray tracing and the Smart Delivery system, which means if you purchased it on Xbox One you get a free update to the Series X and Series S version. 

As for Resident Evil Village itself, it's an excellent horror-meets-adventure game. In our Resident Evil Village review, Henty T. Casey noted: "Resident Evil Village is the most engrossing game I've played in forever, with a twisted labyrinthine story that hooks you in and pulls you down rabbit hole after rabbit hole." 

Resident Evil Village won a "highly recommended" honor for "best characters" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

8. Hitman 3

The final entry in the World of Assassination trilogy, Hitman 3 is a cumulation of all developer IO Interactive has learned from its previous Hitman games. While Hitman 3 doesn't introduce much to the game, it’s basically the finest iteration and implementation of all the systems the reboot of Hitman brought in from 2016 onwards. 

As such you’re looking at a game with a suite of near-perfectly constructed missions, filled with interesting ways to dispatch various targets. These range from clever deception to simply shoving someone off the world's largest building. Stand-out missions involve infiltrating a warehouse rave in Berlin and exploring the neon and rain-soaked streets of China’s Chongqing, to infiltrating a country manor house in a wind-swept and bleak segment of England’s Dartmoor. But beyond the locations, the structure of the missions are rich and deep. You can follow a variety of opportunities that arise to carefully kill a tricky target, or you can switch off a load of hints and figure things out for yourself. Either way, you’re in for one of the finest stealth experiences on the Xbox Series X. 

9. Halo: The Master Chief Collection 

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

(Image credit: Microsoft)

While it's not an Xbox Seires X game — none of the games here are Xbox Seires X exclusives — Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a must-have for Xbox fans. It has all the Halo games up to Halo 4, which arguably means it has all the best Halo games, though 4 is a tad lackluster. And that means access to a series of brilliant first-person shooter campaigns, as well as a mix of multiplayer options for what was and is still one of the best multiplayer experiences on game consoles. 

The optimized version for the Xbox Series X and Seires S means you get a boosted frame rate and 4K resolution, as well as the benefit of super-fast loading times. It's also part of Xbox Game Pass so there's no reason not to give the Halo games a go if you've somehow missed them so far. 

10. Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator

(Image credit: Xbox)

Having first made its debut on Windows 10 PCs, Microsoft Flight Simulator is now out on the Xbox Series X and Series S, allowing you to live out piloting fantasies from the comfort of your couch. 

We described Microsoft Flight Simulator as the perfect pandemic game, letting you take to the virtual skies of a realistically mapped Planet Earth, while remaining inside an relatively COVID-19 safe. But now it has landed on Microsoft's new consoles it gets optimizations for both meaning you don't need a massively expensive PC to play it. So now's the time to kick back an jet, or biplane off into the clouds without worrying about needing a pilot's license or causing horrific mechanical death. 

11. Star Wars: Squadrons 

Star Wars: Squadrons

(Image credit: EA)

While it's a cross-platform game, Star Wars: Squadrons has been given the Xbox Series X optimization treatment, meaning it now hits higher resolutions and framerates, with the latter going up to 120 frames per second. So arguably the Xbox Series X is one of the best places to play this arcade-like space combat simulator. 

And what a space combat sim it is. Star Wars: Squadrons puts you in the cockpits of various Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire fighters and bomber craft allowing you to live out your zero-g dog-fighting fantasies in a galaxy far, far away. And it's all swaddled in a rather lovely modern graphics engine. The game really captures that feeling of battling it out in a lived-in sci-fi setting and pulling off manoeuvres that see you shake a pursuing TIE fighter and then blast it to pieces in the vacuum of space. And the neat controls mapped onto the latest Xbox Wireless Controller means the game is a joy to control. 

12. Destiny 2: Beyond Light

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

(Image credit: Bungie)

While is not an Xbox Series X exclusive, like a good few of the games on this list, Destiny 2: Beyond Light is still one of the best games you can play on the Xbox Series X. Building upon its predecessor, Destiny 2: Beyond Light launched alongside the Xbox Series X and brings with it 4K resolution, speedy load times, and overall smoother performance than it gets on the Xbox One. 

And that means you can get 60 frames per second first-person shooter action from the original creators of Halo, meaning the game offers excellent gunplay in a massively multiplayer environment. If you have a group of friends into shooters, then Destiny 2: Beyond Light is very much the game you'll want to give a go. 

13. Alan Wake Remastered

a screenshot Alan Wake Remastered

(Image credit: Remedy)

Alan Wake Remastered is, as the name would suggest, a refreshed take on the original Alan Wake, with modern graphics and tweaks for the latest games consoles. Somewhat of a cult classic, the remastered version of Alan Wake not only throws in all of the game's DLC but also ensure it run better than ever. 

It doesn't competently overhaul the original game but there are welcome improvements to visuals and to make visiting Bright Falls for the first time or coming back to it as a veteran of Remedy's creeping horror game, a treat. As such, Alan Wake Remastered is an easy recommendation for anyone who’s not experienced the joys of using a flashlight to take down nightmarish enemies. Of course if horror games and reworked classics are not your cup of tea, then perhaps you might want to scroll back to the top of this list. 

Xbox Game Pass

xbox game pass ultimate

(Image credit: Xbox)

If you can't choose what Xbox Series X games to get then we'd recommend an Xbox Game Pass subscription. For around $10 a month you can get access to a huge range of Xbox games dating back to the original console. 

These games no only include an expansive batch of Xbox first-party games, but also titles from EA Play, thanks to a deal between Microsoft and the publisher, as well as a suite of Bethesda games. And a lot of these will benefit from the extra power and speedy load times of the Xbox Series X. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer is U.K. Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.