Happy Xbox day one and all.
It's been a long old wait, but today Microsoft officially kicks off the new generation of gaming with not one, but two consoles. You can read our in-depth thoughts on both the Xbox Series X and Series S here and here, but should you be the lucky new owner of either, you're probably wondering what games to play first.
The Xbox Series X|S launch is unlike any other console launch we can remember, because Microsoft doesn't have a single platform exclusive to announce the arrival of its almighty new machines. There's no new Forza to gawp at, and Halo Infinite won't be with us until well into next year.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing to play. Brand new games like Assassin's Creed Valhalla (out today) will look and play better on the Xbox Series X|S, as well as benefiting from the super speedy load times afforded by the new SSD, while Microsoft's various studios have been busy optimising some of the Xbox One X's biggest games so they make use of the new consoles' power. Then you've got Game Pass, Microsoft's almost unreasonably good value subscription service, on which all of its own games sit, ready to be downloaded.
Here are our recommendations across the board.
(Additional words by Chris Kerr)
1. Gears 5
We loved last year’s Gears 5, the fifth entry in Xbox Game Studios’ long-running and impossibly muscular cover shooter series. While still very much a Gears of War game (despite for some reason dropping the ‘of War’ bit), the more open-ended structure of the predictably bloody campaign felt like just the right amount of evolution.
It being one of Microsoft’s flagship games, it’s no great surprise that Gears 5 has been optimised for Series X|S. The game was already a visual showcase, but now you’re getting improved graphics, better performance and faster loading, as well as the option of supremely smooth 120Hz multiplayer should your TV be up to the job.
It’s not new, but Gears 5 should be one of your first Game Pass downloads, whether you’ve already played it or not.
2. Dirt 5
Dirt 5 is pure, unfiltered arcade racing. The latest entry in Codemasters' delirious spin-off ditches the realism of the Dirt Rally franchise for an altogether more heightened experience.
Each race feels like a Hollywood chase sequence, asking players to fling all manner of hatchbacks, trucks, buggies, and supercars around iconic racecourses sprinkled across the globe. Whether you're drifting atop a frozen lake in a Ford Focus or speeding through a Nordic hamlet while lightning cuts across the Aurora Borealis overhead - if there's one thing Dirt 5 does well, it's spectacle.
Those showpiece moments look better than ever on the Xbox Series S and X, with the Optimized version of the high-tempo racer offering faster load times, improved visuals up to 4K resolution, and frame rates of up to 120fps. How's that for va va voom?
3. Tetris Effect: Connected
Tetris Effect is one of our favourite games of the last generation, but unfortunately for Xbox owners it's been a PlayStation 4 console exclusive for the past two years. Now, however, the ethereal puzzler is making its way to the Xbox Series S and X with a whole bunch of enhancements and new modes in the form of Tetris Effect Connected.
The expanded version offers the same zen-inducing Tetris Effect experience, but adds all new co-op, competitive online, and local multiplayer modes. Visuals have also been enhanced on the Xbox Series S and X, with developer Monstars touting smoother gameplay, improved particle effects, and faster load times.
Basically, then, one of the best game experiences of the past few years just got even better. Go play it.
4. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
With very little to do outside of your house right now, it’s the perfect time to get stuck into 60+ hours of yet another Assassin’s Creed game. This one’s set in England’s Dark Ages, casting you as a particularly serious-looking Viking raider (male or female) seeking power and glory. Because what else was there to do back then?
Despite not being a platform exclusive, Valhalla is as close to a showpiece launch title as the new Xboxes have. It runs at 4K/60fps with enhanced graphics and should really give Microsoft’s hardware a workout.
Even if these games seem to be getting further away from the series’ stealth roots with each new entry, the brief time we’ve spent with Valhalla suggests a surprisingly narrative-driven epic with vast English countryside to pound with your big Viking boots.
5. Forza Horizon 4
It’s the oldest game on the list, but Forza Horizon 4 remains one of the very best racing games ever committed to code, and as you’ve probably guessed, it looks better than ever on the Xbox Series X and S.
As well as higher overall visual fidelity, you’re getting native 60fps gameplay, which makes all the difference in racers, and where Horizon 4 was a notoriously slow loader on Xbox One, here you’re in the game within a matter of seconds.
If you’re yet to churn up the rolling fields of our green and pleasant land in one of Halo’s Warthogs, you really should make doing so your first port of call on your new Xbox. In the more than two years since its release, Forza Horizon 4 is yet to be topped for high-speed arcade racing thrills.
6. Watch Dogs: Legion
Watch Dogs: Legion doesn't so much break the Ubisoft open-world formula as tweak it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're a fan of the tried-and-tested approach, you'll find a lot to love here - and if you're not, Legion adds enough to the equation to keep things interesting.
For starters, Ubisoft's rendition of a near-future, near-totalitarian London is a marvel. You'll likely spend a good chunk of time playing tourist, strolling from landmark to landmark - all of which are beautifully realised with next-gen polish on the Series S and X thanks to Optimized enhancements like ray-tracing and high-res visuals.
Loading times are also significantly reduced, which makes flitting between your various DedSec recruits - Legion lets you play as anyone, remember - a breezy affair.
7. The Touryst
Chances are you’ve never heard of The Touryst, the voxel indie puzzle-adventure game that first launched last year.
Set on the holiday resort of Monument Islands, you - a blocky, unnamed man with a loud shirt collection - can choose between surfing, shopping, hitting the arcades or risking your life to solve the islands’ myriad mysteries. Like any summer getaway, then.
The game is perfectly enjoyable, with its various minigames and Zelda-lite dungeons, but it’s the visuals that make it an essential for new Xbox Series X|S owners. The game runs at a flawless 4K/60fps on the more powerful console, looks incredibly sharp, and with a good HDR TV, is as pretty as an animated movie. Another Game Pass no-brainer.
8. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
One of our favourite games of 2020 to date, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a sensational follow-up to Ori and the Blind Forest, retaining all of the first game's stunning fairy tale aesthetic, tear-jerking story beats and deceptively difficult platforming, but tightening everything up and putting a greater emphasis on combat.
And if you haven't played it yet, now is the time. One of the game's directors has said that Will of the Wisps renders at 6K resolution on the Series X and then supersamples it down to 4K, which should make for one of the best-looking platformers of all time.
And like a lot of the games on this list, it's also on Game Pass.