We’re getting ready to close the chapter on 2021, and with it, we’re chronicling some of the best releases that have come and gone in the past year. The Xbox Series X | S has had a stellar first year in particular, with Game Pass going from strength to strength, more exclusive games than usual and the promise of lots more games to come. However, that’s the future, so let’s talk about the best Xbox games of 2021.
With this list, we’ve compiled the best Xbox Series X | S enhanced games that have been released since the start of this year. These games cross the gamut from horror, shooter, racing game, co-op adventure, life sim and whole crime caper. No matter what your tastes are, at least one of these games is going to appeal to you. Here’s all the best Xbox Series X | S games from 2021 that you should be checking out, listed in alphabetical order.
The Best Xbox Series X & S Games Of 2021
1. Back 4 Blood
Developer: Turtle Rock Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
If anyone’s earned the right to make another co-op zombie horde shooter, it’s Turtle Rock, the guys who pioneered the whole genre by developing Left 4 Dead over a decade ago. Now, after Evolve, they’ve returned to their roots with Back 4 Blood, a 4 player co-op shooter that sees you blasting zombies until the cows come home. If you’re looking for a riotous good time with your friends, there’s few games better than Back 4 Blood.
Players take on the role of Cleaners, a selection of unique characters each with their own abilities that affect gameplay. On top of that, players can build decks of Corruption Cards which alter gameplay even further. Picking from the deck at the start of each level, you’ll slowly build up a formidable series of cards over the course of the campaign, adding a level of replay value as you experiment with new builds and strategies.
2. Death’s Door
Developer: Acid Nerve Publisher: Devolver Digital
Being a Crow who reaps the souls of the dead sounds like it’d be interesting work, but after years of it, it starts to get monotonous. Fortunately, someone’s decided to steal a soul assigned to you and they’ve fled to a realm where death doesn’t exist. Now, you’re attacked on all sides by creatures who’ve grown too big and powerful. Suddenly, your job doesn’t seem quite so boring anymore.
Death’s Door is a charming indie dungeon crawler from the team behind Titan Souls, and it’s one that’s become a real hit for the Xbox Series X | S. As a Crow, you’ll explore a dangerous world filled with enemies, and you’ll have to upgrade and master your abilities if you want to survive.
It sounds bleak, and it often is, but there’s enough comedy and design flourishes in between to make Death’s Door worthy of being called one of the best games of 2021.
3. Demon Turf
Developer: Fabraz Publisher: Playtonic Friends
3D platformers are a crowded genre at the best of times, with more options than you can ever know what to do with at the best of times. In a market like that, you need to do something truly special in order to stand out, and Demon Turf managed to accomplish that feat with its visuals alone. Those 2D sprites wandering through 3D space is enough to grab anyone’s attention, especially when you see it in motion.
However, it’s the actual platforming gameplay that’s the star of Demon Turf’s show. You control Beebz, who’s travelling through the different regions of Hell to take over the turf and challenge the almighty Demon King. Doing so involves clearing challenging platforming levels, earning and mastering a host of abilities along the way.
It’s an old school throwback, but with enough modern twists to feel almost revolutionary by today’s standards.
4. Far Cry 6
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft
Ubisoft’s open world sandboxes might have become a bit samey over the years, but they’re still incredibly fun to explore, opening up the toybox to blow some stuff up. Far Cry 6 is basically more of the same of that, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plus, this version has Giancarlo Esposito chewing the scenery as the main bad guy, which is certainly entertaining to watch.
Far Cry 6 puts you in the shoes of Dani Rojas, a revolutionary in the country of Yara, who’s looking to take down the tyrannical leader once and for all. As you’re working with a team of rebels, the game gives you a lot more in the way of improvised weaponry than previous games, which only makes the gameplay even more fun.
Sure, it’s another massive open world, but there’s got to be a reason we keep coming back.
5. Forza Horizon 5
Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10 Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Considering when this list is being written, Forza Horizon 5 hasn’t been out for all that long, but it’s still an incredibly racing game that’s a highlight of Xbox’s 2021.
Taking the open world racing formula to Mexico, FH5 offers the biggest map and most amount of activities available at launch, and if Forza Horizon 4 is anything to go by, the future of FH5 and its updates looks just as bright.
Players will take to Mexico to help expand the eponymous Horizon Festival, taking part in a variety of road, dirt and cross country events, or playing through various objective-based events and stunts. You can take the game online with your friends, and you can even compete against each other in player-made events that stretch the boundaries of what a Horizon game can do. Forza Horizon is a legendary series in its own right, but this fifth installment could be the best ever.
6. Halo Infinite
Developer: 343 Industries Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
It’s perhaps not a surprise to see the Master Chief’s latest adventure make its way onto this list, considering it’s Xbox’s biggest game of the year, and the biggest Xbox launch since the release of the Xbox Series X | S. Thankfully, Infinite is everything both fans and new could hope for.
Taking place on the Zeta Halo ring, you control Master Chief in a new open world environment, beset on all sides by the savage hordes of The Banished. One Spartan versus an entire faction of radical murderous aliens? Sounds like a fair fight.
On top of the amazing campaign, Halo Infinite also boasts a wonderful multiplayer offering that’s fully free-to-play. Unsurprisingly, Halo Infinite is one of the top Xbox games for 2021.
Hard to believe that Hitman 3 launched in 2021, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone would blame you for forgetting that Hitman 3 launched this year, but that’s besides the point. The fact remains that Hitman 3 is a culmination of one of the best trilogies in the modern era of gaming, bringing together everything that IO Interactive have created with Hitman into one satisfying finale.
Like all good Hitman games, Hitman 3 sees the big baldy barcode-headed badman Agent 47 engaging in a whistle-stop murder tour across the globe. With locations across the planet, and no shortage of targets to kill in a series of elaborate ways, you’ll have your work cut out for you engineering some impressive murders.
Or, you could try your hand at solving a murder instead, just for a bit of a break. Before getting straight back into murdering again.
8. It Takes Two
Developer: Hazelight Publisher: EA
Platforming and relationship mending doesn’t seem like a combo that would mix well together, but developers Hazelight took that as a challenge.
It Takes Two sees players taking on the role of a separated couple, Cody and May, who are transformed into small dolls thanks to their daughter and a bit of magic. As they attempt to reverse the magic, they’re aided along the way by a book/love guru who intends to help them fix where their relationship went wrong.
While the book, Dr. Hakim, can be a bit too annoying/invasive for his own good during the story, the core beats of what’s on offer are enough to give It Takes Two some genuine emotion, but the real selling point for this is the incredible, varied gameplay. It feels like every five minutes or so, It Takes Two is throwing more gameplay and puzzle solving elements at you, and they’re all incredible, meaning you’ll be having nothing but fun all the way until the credits roll.
9. Life Is Strange: True Colors
Developer: Deck Nine Publisher: Square Enix
Trust the Life Is Strange series to make you feel a lot of emotions all at once.
The series’ journeys focus on relationships often leaves its players grappling with a lot of conflicting feelings, but True Colors takes that series trait and amplifies it in a big way. Part of the reason for that is the main character Alex Chen, a literal empath who can experience the emotions of other people.
After moving to the small town of Haven Springs, Alex Chen is immediately thrust into a strange conspiracy as her brother dies under mysterious circumstances. Using the abilities that she once tried to keep under wraps, Alex will discover the town’s various secrets, and form relationships with the people who call Haven Springs home.
Based on story alone, True Colors is a real GOTY contender.
10. Lost Judgment
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Publisher: SEGA
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s move to turn-based RPG with the Yakuza series might not be for everyone, but that’s okay. There’s always the Judgment series, which retains the real-time, beat ‘em up action that the developers have become synonymous with. Lost Judgment continues the fledgling series, offering dozens of hours of investigative action as you try to solve the case surrounding a grisly death.
As Yagami, a private investigator, you’ll travel across Japan, go undercover at a school and try to uncover the truth as various elements conspire against you. Naturally, as a game from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Lost Judgment is also filled to the brim with side content, including boxing, skateboarding, motorcycle racing and more. You can even enjoy a few rounds of Sonic The Fighters, though why would you ever do that?
11. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Developer: Eidos Montreal Publisher: Square Enix
Given the divided reception to Marvel’s Avengers in 2020, Square Enix’s Guardians of the Galaxy could have gone either way. It could’ve been a rolicking space adventure that’s both incredibly fun and does justice to the years of source material, or a shameless cash-in on the brand recognition of the Marvel movies that have grown in popularity over the past decade. Thankfully, GotG is the former.
Playing as Star-Lord himself, you lead the Guardians against a threat that you might have had a hand in creating. While playing as the entire team might have been preferable for some players, playing as just Peter Quill gives the player the undeniable experience of being the leader. You’re the one responsible for making decisions, either during the battles or in between them, that’ll affect the fate of the entire team.
Much like the films, it turns out that hanging around with the band of loveable misfits can lead to a surprise hit, leaving players with an emotive and enjoyable story experience.
12. Moonglow Bay
Developer: Bunnyhug Publisher: Coatsink
For those who have a lot of hours to spare, the life sim genre is a perfect way to spend some time exploring a (usually) wholesome world, and Xbox received a big hit in that particular market with the launch of Moonglow Bay.
Instead of farming or shepherding lost souls, Moonglow Bay is all about fishing, as you head to the small town of Moonglow to fulfil your partner’s lifelong dream of opening a fishing shop.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and your partner is killed while on a fishing trip, and the town is gripped with fear about venturing out to sea, and the urban legends that come with some of the mythical inhabitants. It’s your job to start fishing again, forging relationships with the locals over time as you slowly bring colour back to a struggling town.
It’s also got cute voxel graphics, so what more could you ask for?
13. Psychonauts 2
Developer: Double Fine Studios Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
A sequel over 15 years in the making, and one that’s absolutely been worth the wait, Double Fine’s Psychonauts 2 might very well have been the biggest hit of the summer for the Xbox Series X | S.
Continuing on from a cult classic platformer, Psychonauts 2 once again sees players take on the role of Rasputin as you enter various minds, solve puzzles and generally just wonder what the hell is happening.
The psychic nature of the game frees up Psychonauts 2 to be a lot more imaginative than many platformers. It gives Rasputin more abilities to play with, and it allows the level design to become truly experimental, as you experience the more fractured and strange parts of people’s psyche. Plus, given it’s made by Double Fine, Psychonauts 2 also has the benefit of being incredibly witty, making for a genuine 2021 highlight.
14. Resident Evil Village
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Is Resident Evil 7 better than Resident Evil Village? Yes. Is Resident Evil Village still an incredibly fun jaunt through a medieval village/hellscape, with lots of action, excitement and perhaps a shade too much boss baby (if you know, you know)? Also yes, which is why Village deserves a place on this list. The increased action focus might not be as memorable as RE7’s tense, close quarters affair, but Village’s campaign is bombastic and beautiful.
Playing once again as Ethan Winters, you find yourself stranded in a lost village in the middle of Europe, beset on all sides by bloodthirsty lycans, giant vampire ladies, monstrous blob lads, killer soldiers that look ripped from Wolfenstein and a really, really creepy doll.
While the gameplay is less scary and more shooty, the overall package still stands out as one of the best games of 2021.
15. The Big Con
Developer: Mighty Yell Publisher: Skybound Games
Crime doesn’t have to be serious or dour. In fact, crime can be wholesome, funny and, above all else, fun. The Big Con offers that in spades, as you make your way across America in a road trip to save your mom’s video store. If you live your life describing the 90s as a “vibe”, The Big Con’s aesthetic and premise should be right up your alley. Swindling your friends is just the icing on the cake.
You control Ali, a teenager who’s come to the sudden realisation that her mum owes a lot of money to mobsters, and failure to pay will lead to the video store going down the drain. However, you’ve hatched a plan to earn money by stealing, conning and generally scheming your way to fortune.
While that choice comes with some moral dilemmas, The Big Con ensures that comedy remains the focus, allowing the game to be a lot more enjoyable.
16. The Forgotten City
Developer: Modern Storyteller Publisher: Dear Villagers
It’s a bit strange to describe The Forgotten City as a “new” game for 2021, considering that it’s been available as a Skyrim mod for a few years. However, developers Modern Storyteller and publishers Dear Villagers have spun the mod out into its own game, creating the definitive version of The Forgotten City that’s definitely in the conversation for one of the best Xbox Series X | S games of 2021.
You control a time-traveller who’s transported back to a mysterious city in Ancient Rome, where any breaking of the rules leads to all of the citizens being wiped out. What sounds like an impossible mystery becomes an intriguing puzzle when you use your time-travelling abilities to dig for information.
Whether you obtain that information by force, negotiation or bribery is up to you, but with a lot of loops to sit through to gain the knowledge you need, you’ve got plenty of time to dabble in all three.
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