Much like the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One will be taking its first steps into obsolescence in 2020. The new Xbox (that’s the name: the Xbox) will be out in under a year, and although there’s always some overlap between console generations, a bit of a grace period, you can rest assured that development for the Xbox One is already effectively winding down.
Once again, we didn’t consider remakes, remasters or collections for this list. We didn’t consider games that were released for other consoles in earlier years but didn’t hit the Xbox One until 2019. We focused exclusively on games that were released for the first time anywhere in 2019, and that are currently available for the Xbox One. Only one of the games below is exclusive to the system, but it’s a big one—the latest installment in what’s probably been the biggest Xbox franchise to date. The rest of these games might be playable elsewhere, but they’re also all playable on the Xbox One, and that’s what this list is here for: to point you towards our favorite games that appeared on Microsoft’s system this year. Hope you dig ‘em.—Garrett Martin
Far Cry New Dawn is like Far Cry Primal in that it takes a lot of existing Far Cry assets and reconfigures them in a way that I find impressive. Game development is an expensive business, and creatively repackaging Hope County with a fresh coat of post-apocalyptic paint is, from a practical perspective, a stroke of brilliance. I like the feeling of returning to familiar places post-disaster (it’s one of the many reasons I love the Fallout series) and this new spin, which sees the protagonist rebuilding a settlement of survivors following the apocalypse at the end of Far Cry 5, gives the developers a chance to take some liberties with the setting without threatening the series’s core basis in pseudo-reality. The results are gorgeous. The buried ruins, vibrant overgrowth and purple wildflowers that spread throughout Hope County are a welcome facelift on a familiar setting.—Holly Green
The crowning achievement of Gears of War is its over-the-top combat. Everything is so utterly ridiculous, enjoyably so. Repurposed mining tools will drop explosive drills into enemies’ bodies to make them explode in a twister of gore, and there are few things more sickly satisfying in shooters than pulling off a symphony of five splashy headshots with the hefty Boltok, Gears’ answer to Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. All of these things are still fun and even improved upon thanks your robotic squadmate JACK, who you can direct to lend you aid in useful ways. He can pop down barriers in front of you, blind enemies to stun them, and even freeze them so you do double damage – an essential tactic for taking down some of the bigger monsters. None of JACK’s abilities revolutionize Gears’ messy but timeless take on ducking in and out of cover and reducing foes to red goo with bullets, but it does add an extra tactical layer that makes gunfights more interesting and is a feature that isn’t mired in frustration.—Javy Gwaltney
Other than the clunky handling of racial politics, The Sinking City is truly a gem in the mid-budget gaming scene. Oakmont is gloomy, oppressive, and seems infinitely full of secrets that players can find in dark corners. Side cases augment the main story’s treacherous turns into deeper and deeper Lovecraftian horror, and it generally feels like as a player you have just enough choice to make a difference in the way that cases play out.—Dante Douglas
Metro Exodus gave me the same feeling that I had playing the first-person games of the early ‘00s. It is messy, full of stock situations, and doesn’t quite work in all instances, but it is also experimental and willing to be a little unpolished if it creates a situation or a series of moments that are memorable and compelling. It is a great game that had to smear itself in a layer of whatever-nothing to convince you that it belonged in a certain genre. But like the octopus pretending to be a rock, Metro Exodus is a brilliant creature in the guise of a worse one. With some time, energy, and emotional investment it springs to life.—Cameron Kunzelman
Apex Legends burst out of the gate with a ferocity that the battle royale genre hasn’t seen in a long time. This wasn’t the pioneering-but-clunky first attempts at the genre like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, nor was it the slow-but-unceasing dominance of Fortnite: Battle Royale, Apex is something different. Apex Legends feels like a game from ten years in the future, where our understandings of the battle royale genre have moved beyond the petty bugs and design foibles of today.
Instead, Apex Legends oozes polish. It’s fast, it’s relatively bug-free, it looks and sounds incredible, it has a game-changingly good contextual communication system, and perhaps most interestingly it’s managed to graft a character-focused roster onto a battle royale design more elegantly and effectively than its closest genre competitor in Call Of Duty’s Blackout mode or representation-discourse-regular Overwatch.—Dante Douglas
The unwinnable-for-plot-reasons boss fights aside, Devil May Cry 5 never wants the player to feel any less than like they’re the coolest person on earth. While the game isn’t overly easy, health and upgrades are plentiful, every character has multiple options to handle any situation thrown at them, and the checkpointing system is gracious. Before every boss fight you are given a chance to upgrade and heal back up. In boss fights, if you go down you can use basic red orbs or special gold orbs to get right back into the fight. And this game is constantly tripping over itself to give you all the orbs you’ll ever need. Devil May Cry wants you to be the ultimate badass, and it’s going to give you every opportunity and tool it can.—Dia Lacina
When comparisons between Kingdom Hearts and other franchises come up as a way of giving some cover to the keyblade game, I bristle. The power of Kingdom Hearts and all of its weirdness is contained in its implosive capability, its ability to be totally separated from all narrative responsibility. And as far as I can tell, that’s the greatest power in videogames.—Cameron Kunzelman
Sea of Solitude is about trauma. The sticky, mud-like kind that cakes and cracks and stings because of the thousands of cuts and abrasions we’ve accumulated. The kind that builds up while we push it down and ignore the blood seeping from our knees and elbows as we try to carry on—distracting ourselves from how it crusts on us like barnacles, loading us down until we no longer recognize ourselves or our loved ones.
Kay—ashen, red-eyed, and monstrous—is our protagonist. She has about as many answers as we do. What we learn, she learns. Answers are given and taken away, and then recapitulate and recontextualize themselves. In this way, it mimics my own experience with trauma and recovery. This is a game about mental illness, even if it eludes that distinction. As grounded as it is, Kay’s journey is far more interested in a grounded metaphorization than clinical realities.—DIa Lacnia
Mortal Kombat 11 goes out of its way to break down the barrier between experts and regular players. It reduces the imperceptible into easy-to-follow, step-by-step chunks that anybody can learn. Of course simply knowing how to count frame data doesn’t mean most players will be able to do it that effectively with any regularity. Also, it’s entirely possible that new meta techniques will be discovered by the fighting game community as they continue to look for advantages, once again leaving most players out of the loop. And perhaps NetherRealm intentionally baked new meta tactics into Mortal Kombat 11, knowing that the most dedicated players would quickly find them and pass them around clandestinely like they once did these other techniques.
For now, though, Mortal Kombat 11 blows up so much of the mystery around fighting games. I’ve been playing Mortal Kombat games for almost 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve really played one the way fighting games are meant to be played these days.—Garrett Martin
Obsidian is on to something good with The Outer Worlds. The writing has an irresistible humanity, and the factions, skill system, and dynamic companion interactivity offer a beautifully complicated depth that makes me mourn the loss of Fallout 4 all over again. With it, I don’t have to miss Fallout: New Vegas anymore—I can just enjoy what its core features have become. So far, this new horizon looks promising.—Holly Green
Fallen Order stacks some of the best parts of Metroid, Dark Souls and Uncharted inside a Star Wars trenchcoat, but that isn’t the smartest thing it does. That would be how it squarely centers on the stress and trauma of its characters. PTSD should be rampant in this universe, considering war is all anybody seems to know, and yet within the Star Wars canon it’s rarely been focused on as keenly or depicted as clearly as it is here. Its lead characters aren’t all that likable, for reasons that are both intentional and unintentional, and that is a flaw; still, they feel a bit more human than what you normally see in games and Star Wars stories, and that, combined with the guaranteed to please gameplay formula, makes Fallen Order a Star Wars highlight.—Garrett Martin
“Fun” is a nebulous, subjective concept that many critics try to avoid, but there’s not a better word that sums up why Sekiro’s repetition never becomes a problem. Sekiro’s tightrope combat—a delicate balance of patience, timing and precision that can swing from stately to furious in an instant—is so physically and intellectually satisfying, and such a consistently evolving challenge, that it never grows old. It retains the same kernel of sheer, unabashed fun that you feel from the first time you get a handle of its defense-oriented, posture-disrupting action, but slowly tweaks it through the steady introduction of new skills and techniques.—Garrett Martin
This subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin
It’d be easy to make Outer Wilds sound like a mash-up of familiar influences. It’s built around a recurring time loop like Majora’s Mask; you’ll fly from planet to planet in real time in search of ancient secrets, as in No Man’s Sky; you’ll explore a variety of eldritch mysteries baked into this solar system, not unlike a new-fangled Myst. Those ideas are implemented in such a unique and seamless way, though, that the total package feels unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It focuses on a race of gentle spacefarers who build rockets out of wood in order to map the other planets that circle their sun and dig up answers on ancient settlers who left wisdom spread throughout the galaxy. The developers have clearly thought long and hard about the alien universe they’ve created, from the specific nature of its physical laws, to the culture of the creatures who populate it. The result is a game that feels appropriately alien, strengthening our desire to unlock its mysteries and explore its culture.—Garrett Martin
Remedy has worked hard to unite the mysterious and the mundane since at least Alan Wake, and Control is an almost ideal distillation of that theme. At its heart is the bureaucratic exploration of the unknown and unknowable, with the player stepping into the role of the new director of a government organization devoted to classifying and controlling unexplained phenomena. It’s an enigmatic and unpredictable quest not just into a nondescript office building that grows increasingly contorted and abstract, but into the heart of a conspiracy that spans the paranormal and the prosaic, and one that ultimately seems to have little use or concern for either the player or their character. In its depiction of humanity grasping for relevance and understanding in an indifferent and impossible to understand universe we see a clear reflection of our own existence. It’s a game of uncommon wisdom and depth, and one that needs to be played.—Garrett Martin