We are so close to the new console generations of Xbox Series X we can almost taste it (please don’t lick your new Xboxes when they arrive). But just as one eye looks forward to the future, the other looks back on the generation just gone. And what better way than by looking back at our thoughts on the Xbox One’s Generational Game-Changers.
Zombie Army 4
We’re starting our list with the most recent one, having only launched in February 2020.
Originally starting life as a spin-off from the Sniper Elite series, Zombie Army has taken on a life of its own, much like the thousands of re-animated corpses you are shooting. Set in the same timezones, Zombie Army has you shooting Nazi zombies because there really is nothing worse. The similarities end there though; Zombie Army 4 doubles down on the cheese and the B-movie feels to deliver a devilishly fun romp through some unique scenarios.
Zombies could spit at you, shoot at you, but also hunt you down in a zoo or chase you down in a tank. Basically, in this world anything and anyone can be a zombie, but they still require shooting.
Our review gave it a 4/5, praising the multiple campaigns, the hidden Easter eggs and the high level of gore. You can check it out here.
Life is Strange
We couldn’t pick our favourite episode from Life is Strange so we’re including the entire game in our list! Released throughout 2015, Life is Strange is one of the precursors to episodic gaming alongside The Walking Dead, but it remains one of the best examples of episodic gaming on Xbox One.
In Life is Strange, you play as Max, a photography student at Blackwell Academy who suddenly realises she has the ability to rewind time. This alone flipped the episodic structure on its head by allowing players to rewind time if their previous decision produced an outcome they weren’t happy with.
All this is wrapped up in a coming-of-age indie film setting, with a hazy filter and a killer soundtrack. Artists such as Foals, Alt-J, Angus & Julia Stone and the inimitable José González – who was also present in Red Dead Redemption – the soundtrack is almost as important as the plot itself.
If you need any further convincing that Life is Strange is deserving of a place on our list, then check out our review of the first episode here.
Slay the Spire
Our next game on the list is a roguelike, which some consider to be a dirty word, but Slay the Spire puts a highly unlikely spin on this divisive genre: it adds a deck-building element.
By fusing these two genres together, Slay the Spire is one of the most unique and original games on this list. As progression continues, you unlock more cards to increase your deck; death however means you not only lose all progress up the spire, but all your cards as well. Your reward though at the end of a run are points, and we all know what points make? Prizes! New cards and artefacts then help you on your next run.
Your deck is used in turn-based combat against the enemies of the spire, and new cards are a joy to discover. But don’t expect them to massively turn the tide in your favour; Slay the Spire has been meticulously designed that every card has its advantages and disadvantages. Your knowledge gained from running the spire is almost as invaluable as the deck you build.
Our review of this genre mash gave Slay the Spire an almost perfect 4.5/5. Check it out here.
Forza Horizon 4
Much has been said about Microsoft’s first party offerings this generation, but it hasn’t all been lacking. And one release is perhaps the pinnacle of its genre.
Forza Horizon 4 is the latest iteration from the spin-off series from Forza Motorsport. In recent outings it has perhaps even overtaken the original series in terms of quality and enjoyment.
This time around, the festival turns its attention to the UK, and if there is one thing the UK is famous for, it is the weather. Forza Horizon 4 introduced seasonal gameplay where every few weeks the entire map is transformed based on the season represented. In winter for example, the massive lake freezes over and can be driven on. This commonly takes the form of a useful shortcut in Online Free Roam, as many of the TXH team can testify during our gaming nights.
Forza Horizon 4 still contained the usual elements from past entries: barn finds, tight street races, showcase events, expansive off-road events and more radio stations than you can shake a stick at. But post-release updates also brought tons more including LEGO cars and environments, hundreds of more cars, and even a battle royale mode!
Our review gave it a full 5 stars, praising the progression system and sheer amount of detail. Seriously, every time I turn the game on, I unlock something new. And that’s pretty damn often.
Now for my personal favourite game of the genre, that just so happens to be my favourite game of all time after playing it. Sorry, Final Fantasy X, but know that you’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Yakuza 0 originally released on PlayStation 4 in the West in January 2017 but made the transition over to Xbox One back in March 2020, and launched straight onto Xbox Game Pass. A prequel to the Yakuza franchise, it introduced legions of new fans – myself included – to a series now receiving the plaudits it deserves.
Yakuza 0 features two playable protagonists: series regular Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima, everyone’s favourite anti-hero. Their stories take place in separate cities but revolve around a place in one of the cities called The Empty Lot. Whoever holds the deeds to this seemingly insignificant piece of land in the heart of Kamurocho potentially holds the key to controlling the entire city.
At its core, Yakuza 0 is an open-world action brawler, but it is the sum of all its parts that make it deserving of a place on our list. There are the crazy and often hilarious substories, the huge number of minigames – not least the ability to play OutRun in full – the sheer number of plot twists keeping you on your toes, or the fantastic and underrated soundtrack.
If you have a spare 150 hours, this is one open world you could explore and still not see everything.
If there is one thing you need to know about Rocket League, it is that it is an immensely easier name to remember than its predecessor – Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. What a mouthful.
Another game that originally launched on PlayStation 4, Rocket League arrived on the Xbox side in February 2016, with fans eager to get stuck in. A football game where you drive cars into an oversized football? Sign me up!
Rocket League doesn’t have a story, hardly any career mode, and only a few core modes. It does however contain some of the best physics committed to a game, and one hell of an addictive gameplay loop. The process is simple: choose an RC car, and then try and get the giant football into your opponent’s goal with up to a team of four players.
And yet, Rocket League has taken the world by storm, becoming a huge esports draw and in 2018 it passed over 40 million different players. And with the game recently going free-to-play, it looks set to be sticking around for a long time on the new generation of consoles.
We’re fortunate at TheXboxHub to play a lot of indie games, as this list will testify by showing a healthy balance of triple-A and indies. Some indie games though transcend into popular culture, and just like Rocket League, Inside is one of those.
After the developers at PlayDead’s first release, Limbo, hopes were rightly high for whatever came next. Inside was that game, and at first glance it shared many similarities. It’s a side-scrolling platformer – at least boiled down to its most puerile elements – but Inside proves that less is more.
You play as an unnamed boy who is on the run from something but quickly is caught and placed into a factory of some sort. You, as the boy, must piece together what is going on, whilst trying to escape. Without going into much more detail, the less you know going into Inside, the more enjoyment you get out of it.
Then there is the ending, which is equal parts shocking and unbelievable, and yet you can’t take your eyes off it.
Once you have played it though, check out this iam8bit merchandise.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Into the top three games now, and if Inside and What Remains of Edith Finch are shorter experiences, our top two are the exact opposite.
What Remains of Edith Finch is interactive storytelling at it’s finest. Avoiding the term walking simulator, you play as Edith Finch returning to her family home after a tragedy. Room by room, you explore the house and begin to piece together what has happened to your family.
Gameplay is inventive and constantly surprising you with a sheer variety of different elements and mechanics in each of the short stories. You could be playing as a cat one minute or travelling through a comic book story in the next. You will laugh and you will cry.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a jack-of-all-trades, but also a master of them all.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Yup, the big cowboy simulator was destined to appear in our list, but I was surprised to see it ranked at number 2 – I simply couldn’t get used to the poorly designed control scheme.
One of our top games of the last decade, Red Dead Redemption 2 was worth the wait from Rockstar Games. Set before the events of the first Red Dead Redemption, you play as Arthur Morgan as a member of the Van der Linde gang as they rise to power in the dying Wild West.
Just like the development cycle, everything in Red Dead 2 is designed to be slow, meaningful and impactful. A traditional fast-travel system is removed as you spend much of your time riding on horseback, forming a bond with your hoofed friend. Bonds are formed with other members of your gang though as you eat, sleep, drink and cowboy together.
There is a huge and highly detailed open world to discover on your own too, almost so much to completely detract you away from the main story. Stick with it though, and the tragedy of the first Red Dead game is dwarfed by what happens to Arthur Morgan in the second game.
Then there is the online component, which took a huge leaf out of the juggernaut that is Grand Theft Auto Online and replicated it in the world of Red Dead 2.
It will take months to fully explore everything Arthur Morgan and the Van der Lindes can do in the Wild West, and we can only think of one more game where your time is better spent.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Our top spot for generation number eight and one of the most important games in the Xbox One’s quest to deliver generational game-changers goes to Geralt’s swan song, The Witcher 3.
After the middling success of The Witcher 2 on home consoles, the team at CD Projekt Red went back to the drawing board for the trilogy finale. By changing to an open world, the Witcher 3 literally opened itself up to a world of possibilities and success.
As an open world western RPG, the easiest comparison to make is with Skyrim. But the games really are night and day different, not least in the way that Geralt performs. He mainly wields two swords: a steel sword for humans and a silver sword for monsters and creatures. Any healing potions take time to drink, and spells need to be prepared in advance.
Geralt is a Witcher – a monster hunter for hire. In the Wild Hunt he is spurred into action after the reappearance of Ciri, his lover Yennefer’s adopted daughter who disappeared to escape the Wild Hunt, who are a supernatural group of warriors.
But after that, what happens next is entirely down to you; The Witcher 3 features 36 different endings depending on character outcomes, though with an average playtime of around 100 hours, we doubt many people have gotten all 36, as good as this game is.
Then there are the expansions: Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine, widely regarded as some of the best pieces of DLC. There is a reason that The Witcher 3 is receiving next-gen updates next year for the Xbox Series X|S, such is the simply exceptional game that it is.
All that and I didn’t even mention Gwent!
And that is our list of some of the generational game-changers to be found on the Xbox One. These are just our personal top 10; in our league ranking the likes of DOOM 2016 just missed out, and Nier: Automata was closer still. We also considered the likes of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Killer Instinct which weren’t too far behind either.
Agree with us? Disagree with us? Let us know your top games in the comments and stay tuned for our coverage of the next-generation of games coming very soon!