The 15 Best Xbox One Games of 2016

Games Lists Best of 2016
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The 15 Best Xbox One Games of 2016

The Xbox One capped off a fine 2016 by welcoming Stardew Valley, one of the year’s most beloved PC games, to its lineup in December. It was a fitting final major release for a year that emphasized how the importance of exclusives has waned. There aren’t a lot of Xbox One exclusives on this list—a few games had brief windows of exclusivity before appearing for PC or the PlayStation, and a couple still aren’t available on Sony’s system—and even Microsoft seems to have even acknowledged how exclusives have lost significance by usually releasing its own major games for both the Xbox One and the PC. It’s hard to imagine Xbox One owners complaining about this, though, as they still had more good new games to play through then they could probably manage.

The best Xbox One games of the year represents perhaps the most well-rounded collection of games in recent memory. It includes big-budget shooters and action endeavors, higher-minded narrative fare, retro-tinged abstractions, a sprawling Japanese role-playing game, and even a sports game. It’s a diverse line-up of experiences that reveals how strong 2016 was, not just for the Xbox One, but for games in general.

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15. Forza Horizon 3

Forza Horizon 3 has one of the most organic senses of progression I’ve ever seen in a racing game. You, as the player, constantly keep moving to explore and find the next cool thing to do. Much like discovering cars in old barns was an element in the original, this game is designed to provoke a sense of wonder and curiosity through exploration.—Jason D’Aprile


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14. Final Fantasy XV

Male intimacy in games usually revolves around slapping each other on the back for how well you shot other dudes, or how you will learn to shoot them better as time goes on. The brotherhood of XV is a little different, as they tease each other, talk about girls, push to better themselves internally and discuss the photos taken at the end of each day. It’s a side of friendship you don’t get to see often in games, and that levity helps keep the thin story afloat through the first half of the game.—Eric Van Allen


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13. Superhot

Superhot’s shootouts make its case better than its narrative layers ever could. Its methodical take on shooter combat forces you to linger on the consequences of your actions without saying a word. And that’s all it needed to be.—Suriel Vazquez


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12. XCOM 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a boring game in the sense that to solve it means to operate it like the most undependable machine. XCOM 2 is the most extreme opposite from base management to isometric choice, requiring that you take risks, move quickly and generally understand that you’re always going to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to making decisions that get the job done and minimize risk to your soldiers. That final factor is the core strength of XCOM 2, and it is what elevates it beyond yet another tactical game in an ever-growing genre. If the alien invasion genre is really all about humanity and how it gets tested, then this game mobilizes that genre in order to frame the individual player being put to the test at all times.—Cameron Kunzelman


11. Dark Souls III

Dark Souls III would be a fitting end to a videogame series, and we don’t get many of those. I enjoyed almost all of my time with it, but I’m not sure if I’d want another game like this to come by for a long time. As a comprehensive second draft of the best moments from the series, it left me with fond memories of everything I love about these games. And by sprucing up those moments, it gives new players a chance to finally understand why these games matter. It doesn’t make sweeping changes to the series’ structure or rhythms, but just this one time, it can get away with tugging at familiar heart strings. I came into this game hoping it wouldn’t be “just another Dark Souls game.” But I’m glad that’s what I got.—Suriel Vazquez

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10. Hitman

Wander…long enough and you’ll also find interesting sub-plots that key you into new avenues of approach. The best one I found had to do with one woman asking another to infiltrate the same group of people you were trying to in order to save a magazine one of the targets owned. Dangling the prospect of over 200 people losing their jobs over her, the woman convinces her friend to risk her life. She then heads to a nearby bathroom to call her friend as she agonizes over what’s she’s been asked to do. These stories build that sense of place Hitman’s always been great at creating, and they make you want to continue exploring.—Suriel Vazquez


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9. Inside

Like Limbo before it, Inside is a dark puzzle game set in a deadly and oppressive world. The boy you control will die suddenly and frequently in violently graphic ways, and the world he explores is almost entirely cast in shadow. Inside is a bit more defined than Limbo, though, replacing that game’s more nature-based fears with Orwellian overtones and a dystopia run by man, and then making your own character complicit in the same kind of mind control that’s ruined his town.—Garrett Martin


8. Oxenfree

Oxenfree captures the vicissitudes of friendship, especially the heightened passions of teenage friendship. No matter how believable these characters and their relationships can be, though, you might find yourself wanting to get away from them altogether, especially early in the game. Even Alex, the character you control, can occasionally rankle with her petty reactions and annoying humor. In that way, Oxenfree recreates that sense of self-mortification that should be most acute during your teenaged years, and how we’re not always capable of saying what we want to say.—Garrett Martin


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7. Hyper Light Drifter

The world of Hyper Light Drifter is a rotting corpse, and the lizard people or bear people or bird people of that world continue to dwell in the ruins of some kind of technologically advanced civilization. You, embodying the player character, are haunted by your own death, and you’re haunted by some kind of force that keeps this world in its state of decay. It is unclear whether progress in the game means finally killing the world or setting it free, and that ambivalence sticks with me even now.—Cameron Kunzelman


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6. DOOM

The player, a gun, and things to kill. That has always has been DOOM, and id’s legacy has been rekindled with DOOM (2016). You may argue that a good sequel’s job is to iterate on past successes, to further develop mechanics, or to evolve a title to the next step in its life cycle. But DOOM (2016) isn’t a departure or a reimagining. It’s something much better, much more pure. DOOM (2016) is a homecoming. And boy, does it feel good to be home.—Patrick Lindsey


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5. Titanfall 2

I have a healthy respect for aimless, open-ended games that let us play and explore at our own pace. They often don’t feel wasteful, no matter how many hours one can pour into them. What does feel wasteful are tightly scripted and guided games that drag on for hours and hours, pumping out new battlefields and bad guys to plow through between cutscenes well past the ten hour mark. Titanfall 2 cuts out all the extraneous business that can plague modern day action games, resulting in one of the tightest, tautest, tensest first-person shooters in recent memory, with a solid helping of mind-bending mechanical tomfoolery on the side. Like The Last Guardian, a game that otherwise could not be any more different than this one, at the core is a touching, heartfelt relationship between man and (techno)beast that trounces most of the human relationships found in games. Titanfall 2 is a laser beam with a heart.—Garrett Martin


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4. Stardew Valley

For all the nostalgia-driven indie gaming experiences we’ve had over the past decade, the long-running and much-loved world of Harvest Moon had gone curiously neglected until more recently. Stardew Valley is easily the best of these virtual farming love-letters, making vast improvements on core mechanics while adding its own unique flavor. It’s faithful enough that devoted Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons fans fell in love with it, but approachable enough that it introduced an entirely new group of gamers to the joys of a pixellated country life.—Janine Hawkins


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3. Firewatch

Firewatch is a game, but it’s not useful to write about it as a game. Who cares what your fingers do while you’re playing this? Yes: it has graphics. The stuff that matters is what Henry and Delilah talk about on their radios. It’s what Henry reads throughout the few campsites and outposts he comes across. It’s what you feel as the story unfolds like a short story on your television screen, visiting the private grief of others who can struggle to communicate just as torturously as all of us in the real world can. And although this dual character study can feel a little slight, and has a few improbable notes that are struck seemingly just to enhance a sense of mystery, that central friendship between Henry and Delilah is powerful. It feels real, and important for both of them.—Garrett Martin


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2. Dishonored 2

The most striking thing about Dishonored 2 is its confidence. It creates massive, sprawling levels, with lots of details to discern and small-scale stories to discover, and hardly ever forces you to explore even half of them. You can spend dozens of hours uncovering every secret and trying hard not to kill anybody, or just blitz through, crossbows a-blazin’, in a sprint to the finish line. New scenarios regularly introduce new twists on core mechanics or standard game geometry, and they always feel of a piece with the game’s world and characters. Even when you take the longest path and embrace everything the game has to offer, it never feels repetitive or self-indulgent, and that extra attention to detail fills out what is already one of the more fully realized worlds in games. Add in a strong focus on characters, both new and old, and a multitude of gameplay approaches, and you have one of the best action games of the year.—Garrett Martin


1. Overwatch

I feel like a hero when I play my favorite characters and I get choked up at the idea of helping my team. Inclusivity and positivity hide behind some intelligent, pared-down game choices and in doing so, Blizzard has spun an engaging fantasy around this idea that if we all just try, then that’s good enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I’m the best player, as long as I try to be better. In a world full of games where being the best is the only space to occupy, Overwatch at least tries to create a new and better future for the rest of us.—Nico Deyo