The Best Xbox Games of 2024 (So Far)

Games Lists Best of the Year
The Best Xbox Games of 2024 (So Far)

We did the PlayStation 5. We did the Switch. Clearly we were going to rank the best Xbox games of 2024 so far, too. We don’t leave our readers—or the low-hanging fruit of SEO-friendly premature GOTY lists—hanging.

The biggest Xbox news of the year hasn’t been about any specific games, of course. Microsoft has laid off thousands of employees throughout its Xbox division in 2024, and closed acclaimed studios Arkane Austin and Tango Gameworks, as well as Alpha Dog Studios and Roundhouse Games. It’s a story the gaming industry (and the economy at large) has heard far too often the last couple of years: a major company prioritizes expansion, buying up assets and merging with other giants, only to quickly reverse course with mass layoffs and closures when profits don’t scale accordingly. The Xbox in 2024 hasn’t been defined by its games but by corporate mismanagement and the callous disregard of workers. It’s also notable that, despite ramping up its portfolio of studios so greatly over the last few years, including buying Bethesda and merging with Activision, none of the games below were made by a Microsoft studio. It’s almost like getting lost in the corporate shuffle isn’t necessarily conducive to making quality work?

So, yeah: it’s been an especially bad year so far for the people who make games for Microsoft. There have still been some good new games to play on the platform, though, so let’s run through ’em real fast. Here are the best Xbox games of 2024 (so far).

10. Unicorn Overlord

Unicorn Overlord

This is more or less the story of Unicorn Overlord: Its art is beautiful, its battle system is fun, and it has the best gameplay loop of maybe any SRPG I’ve ever played, reminiscent of old Fire Emblem if it were built with modern conveniences. It’s a pretty wrapper for a bad story, but that story is at least unobtrusive enough that it neither adds nor takes away from the gameplay. Building towns and promoting units gave me an unmatched feeling of satisfaction, and when I got to see my improvements play out against an especially tough battle, it felt great. I did find myself dragging my feet at about the 30 hour mark, when I was close enough to the end to have made most of the improvements to my army that I could, but no longer pulled through by the momentum of the story. What made me push through wasn’t just how fun the action is, but the small things: the design of new items in the shop, the new towns to save, and the fun of remixing my units to see if they could win in new ways.—Emily Price


9. Tales of Kenzera: ZAU

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU

The beauty of Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is that grief is not linear. It’s not something you heal from and it doesn’t ever look the same across two people. It’s a deeply unique experience, but at the same time, it’s also universal. The complexity of grief is what makes it so. Zau feels anger, guilt, and sadness. He feels all of it and he mediates those emotions in the Great Spirits he helps cross over. He helps a parent loosen their grip on their child, he provides a salve to the anger between father and son, and he learns to let go. Each new character is a different expression of why you can get stuck in your loss, how it can debilitate you and keep you in an endless loop, ultimately impacting those around you. But even when the darkness rushes in at the end of boss battles as you try to escape a zone, the vibrancy of those emotions is never lost. When I pitched this article, I didn’t know if anyone would understand what I meant. The grief that Surgent Studios has captured is vibrant and saturated. It’s not a dull pang or a numbness that creeps. It’s more potent and the beautiful world it lives in makes it all the more impactful.—Kate Sánchez


8. Crow Country

Crow Country

Set in 1990 in an abandoned theme park in Paste‘s home town of Atlanta, Ga., Crow Country wears its OG PlayStation influences on the sleeves of its Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket. On the surface it ticks off all the classic survival horror boxes: limited ammo and health, an awkward aiming system, incentivizing head shots (or even just running) over any other attacks, and a claustrophobic atmosphere full of dread and jump scares. I generally hate survival horror, so I’m glad to report there’s so much more to Crow Country beyond those genre trappings. It’s really more about puzzles than action, almost like a Sierra point-and-click with a three-quarters view and the occasional need to shoot something. You explore the park’s various themed areas, looking for clues to a bewitching central mystery about the park’s creation and abrupt closure. The writing is compelling throughout, both creepy and funny, and its small cast of characters are concisely sketched with lifelike depth. It’s an engrossing enigma that’s clever from start to finish, and with buckets of retro warmth and charm. Plus it mentions the Atlanta Falcons. Obviously I’m going to think it’s one of the best Xbox games of 2024.—Garrett Martin


7. Little Kitty, Big City

Little Kitty, Big City

“Hang out games”—games without urgency, that explicitly try not to stress you out too much—cozy games, as many call them—can be tough to get right. They can feel too much like busy work, with a checklist of stuff it wants you to do every day (hey, Animal Crossing!) It’s also not easy to build a world players want to hang out in. You have to be really good at writing stories, creating characters, and putting them in an environment that, if not warm and inviting, is at least compelling enough to keep players checking in. That’s the greatest strength of Little Kitty, Big City. I love this little kitten. I love how it slinks, stalks, crawls, and runs through the city. I’ve tripped probably 100 very serious business people on their way to work and it’s never gotten old. I love all these characters—the brave ducklings who roamed the city for show and tell, the sleepy bodega cat who proclaims himself the mayor, the shiba inus who go out of their mind barking at the kitty unless you give them a bone, which they’ll manically gnaw and slobber on for the rest of the game. Charm coats this game like hair and dander on a cat lover’s couch. With Little Kitty, Big City, Double Dagger has given us an ideal “hang out” game that helps so much to alleviate stress and sadness that it might also be the first “hang in there” game. It’s clearly one of the best Xbox games of 2024.—Garrett Martin


6. Tekken 8

Tekken 8

Tekken 8 may not be a sea-change sequel, but it hones what came before, reducing pain points for newcomers without reducing the complexity that makes this series special. Although the dust needs to settle to determine if its Heat system’s boons outweigh its shortcomings, the massive character movesets, rewarding roster, and explosive combos ensure its battles are exciting and tactically deep. Improved teaching tools, like its Arcade Quest mode and training room adjustments, make it easier to experience these highs. Additionally, its revamped look and hard-hitting aesthetics elevate not only its matches but also its story, a high-octane anime-inspired romp that ties together three decades of history into a resounding haymaker. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to beat a buddy mashing cheap moves in your dorm, been curious about what’s going on under the hood as Arslan Ash and Knee duked it out in impossibly hype EVO sets, or wondered why these buff dudes keep throwing each other off cliffs, there’s never been a better time to dive into the strange and wonderful world of Tekken and find out for yourself.—Elijah Gonzalez


5. Alan Wake II: Night Springs

The three episodes of Night Springs exist to provide fun, hypothetical “What if?” scenarios to Alan Wake II players, and they largely succeed in doing so. There are moments that feel less than stellar, but the peaks of this expansion more than makeup for this. The most interesting part of this package, however, is how strongly these episodes reinforce the themes present in Alan Wake II. If that story is in part about breaking free from self-imposed creative demands, Night Springs shows what those demands create. These stories couldn’t break Alan out of the Dark Place—and only after seeing what allowed his escape can we examine his prior failings as a writer.—Perry Gottschalk 


4. Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story

Just as earlier Gold Series entry The Making of Karateka and its precursor Atari 50 gave us an in-depth look at the background and creation of the games they focused on, Llamasoft is full of videos and archival footage about game designer Jeff Minter’s decades-long history and how his games were created, marketed, and received by the press and the public. Minter himself is beguiling, a shamanistic figure who indulges his love of computer games, psych and prog rock, and hoofed mammals in semi-seclusion in Wales, and who has been an outspoken proponent of independent game design for most of his career. The latest entry in Digital Eclipse’s series of playable documentaries collects dozens of Minter’s early games, from his earliest ZX81 rough drafts up to his 1994 masterpiece Tempest 2000, and the hallmarks of a true artist are unmistakable. Throughout his career Minter has continually iterated on similar themes, mechanics, and images, creating a unified body of games whose dreamlike logic and visuals are at odds with their strict difficulty and well-defined mechanics. Minter’s work exists in the contrast between form and function; he’s a visual iconoclast resolutely exploring the most traditional notions of “gameplay” through surreal arcade games that always bear his personal signature. His games look like abstract art and play like something you could’ve found in a bowling alley arcade in 1985, and that’s about the most bulletproof approach to game design I can think of. For over 40 years Minter has made some of the greatest, most inventive games ever, and this brilliant collection is one of the best Xbox games of 2024.—Garrett Martin


3. Dragon’s Dogma 2

Although its story centers on a monarch trying to reclaim their crown and all the power that comes with it, Dragon’s Dogma 2’s greatest delights come from accepting you can’t control everything. You can’t influence inclement weather or the sun disappearing over the horizon as unsettling monstrosities burst from subterranean layers. You can’t blink across the world without paying for it, and instead, must take long journeys where the only cure for dwindling strength is rest. Sometimes, you can’t even get up a particular cliffside, its steep terrain forcing a different path. And most of all, you can’t always control who lives and dies (although there is a hilariously arcane process to resurrect the dead, for a price, of course). It’s not challenging in quite the same way as FromSoftware’s output, like Dark Souls and Sekiro, although I can see why those comparisons are made. Here, the toughness is less about learning to dodge-roll at the right time and more related to preparation and countering weaknesses. Dragon’s Dogma 2 also isn’t some entirely avant-garde, player-hating thing that rejects “fun” outright. It feels really good when you shield bash a guy, weaponizing the same inertia that’s sent you slipping down slopes to make a foe do the same. After hitting an off-balance enemy with a follow-up attack (aptly named “Empale”), the immaculate thud of the ensuing audio cue is music to my ears. It’s damn satisfying whenever things line up perfectly, like cutting a bridge out from under a charging Cyclops or sending a boulder ripping through an army of Saurians. But what makes these moments truly pop is that you don’t have fine control over when they arrive.—Elijah Gonzalez


2. Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree

Shadow of the Erdtree

Going into Shadow of the Erdtree, I was somewhat worried that after two years and close to two hundred hours with Elden Ring, this follow-up wouldn’t be able to recreate the excitement of traversing the valleys and caves of The Lands Between for the first time; journeying through rot-filled underworlds, witnessing mass graves that demonstrate the Golden Order’s brutality, and forging pacts with lunar demigods. Thankfully, I was mistaken, as this expansion captures that same sense of breathless discovery but with a greater concentration of memorable sights. It’s large enough to create moments of surprise but has a more hand-crafted scope that moves you through novel locales and largely engaging boss fights at an impressive clip, finding a middle ground between the scale of FromSoft’s past work and Elden Ring. Here, there is a sense of falling down rabbit holes, as one obscure discovery leads to another until you’re deep beneath the surface or in the middle of a strange ritual ground you can’t comprehend. This studio deeply understands how to wring the divine out of this world where deities and mortals mingle, resulting in the same type of awe-inspiring ambiance and unforgettable backdrops that put Elden Ring in a league of its own. While I wish it solved more of the base game’s issues so there weren’t such steep valleys here, particularly around some of its slash-happy big bads, overall, Shadow of the Erdtree not only reaches the peaks of the of its predecessor but, in many ways, surpasses them.—Elijah Gonzalez


1. Balatro

Balatro

As someone who would rather play virtually any board game than a hand of poker, I was pleasantly surprised by Balatro, a roguelike deckbuilder that transforms this card game into something else entirely. Some elements are what you’d expect; you begin with a standard 52-card deck and score by putting together traditional poker hands like pairs, flushes, and straights. However, where things get interesting is that over the course of a run, you can augment your deck by replacing certain cards with others, upgrading them, collecting passive upgrades that amplify your score, and more. Instead of playing against opponents like in Texas Hold ‘Em, your goal is to build hands that score enough chips to get you through an increasingly expensive series of antes. Like any successful deckbuilding game, decision-making matters in both assembling your deck and playing it. Instead of just going by traditional poker hand strength, points are calculated by multiplying the base amount of chips your hand is worth (chip count corresponds to the card rank, i.e., 9, 10, J, Q, etc.), with the particular multiplier associated with that hand (for instance, a two pair has a x2 multiplier while a three of a kind has a x3 multiplier). Where things get busted is that you can upgrade the multipliers associated with specific hands or cards, and passive abilities add to your multiplier, which can eventually dramatically boost the number of chips you earn. You can gear your deck around certain hands, suits, or passive abilities to increase the odds of hitting big. Outside of the deckbuilding, you’re given a wide array of options and information that makes it feel tactically deep. The game counts cards to let you know the odds, has the option to discard and redraw, allows you to change the order that passive abilities activate, and has consumable items. Good deckbuilders feel fair and like they offer meaningful decisions while constructing and playing your deck. Balatro does all that while also letting you blast apart the rules of poker.—Elijah Gonzalez

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