It’s been more than 13 years since the retail launch of Microsoft’s snow-white, seventh-generation console, the Xbox 360. The console stands as one of the best in history, with a tremendous lineup of games across a wide variety of genres, and several exclusives stand among the greatest games ever made.
We’ve compiled a list of the 50 best Xbox 360 games, which showcase not only major turning points in the video game industry, but also experiences that have withstood the test of time.
Rankings: No. 1 through No. 10
1. ‘Mass Effect 2’
Mass Effect 2 stands as the pinnacle of BioWare and EA’s ambitious space odyssey role-playing franchise. In the series’ “dark middle chapter,” Commander Shepard’s explores exotic planets, recruits daring crew members, and records more Citadel advertisements. The story starts off with a bang, as the protagonist Shepard is brutally killed, only to be rebuilt by Cerberus — a sort of paramilitary organization with a strong political agenda.
The “Paragon/Renegade” system from the first game returns, and you find yourself making dozens upon dozens of decisions that can influence the rest of the plot. The gameplay has been cleaned up, and it feels much smoother and quicker than the original. Crew assignments feel more important than ever as you face bigger and more varied foes while exploring numerous alien environments. Plus, with Mass Effect: Andromeda in the wild, it’s as good a time as any to revisit the rest of the series.
2. ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’
Before its release in 2011, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim became one of the most hyped games of all time. Somehow, like the LeBron James of video games, it lived up to the hype. One of the most memorable fantasy RPG worlds ever created, Skyrim is filled with gorgeous scenery, from rushing rivers and lush pine forests to sky-scraping mountains and rolling meadows. You can explore your own way, or follow the path of the Dragonborn as you learn to speak the language of dragons, which have returned after lying dormant for thousands of years.
Read our full The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
3. ‘Portal 2’
Praised by critics as one of the great games of its time, the original Portal combined brain-teasing puzzle elements with dark, incisive humor and an enjoyable story. Somehow, Portal 2 improved upon the original in every way possible. As in the first game, player-character Chell completes a series of devilish puzzles utilizing the iconic Handheld Portal Device, now with the goal of escaping a labyrinthian underground facility, Aperture Science. Hilarious new characters with superb voice acting and several new tricks help guide you at a perfect pace: The game never feels overly difficult, and each success ferries you through to more challenging puzzle chambers. The sequel also introduces a strong cooperative campaign that allows for two players to place four portals simultaneously, enabling developer Valve to explore some inspired puzzle design.
Read our full Portal 2 review
4. ‘Red Dead Redemption’
Red Dead Redemption is as close to perfect as it comes. The Wild West story places you in the shoes of John Marston, a former outlaw who is hellbent on finding his old cronies after a run-in with the FBI. The open-world gameplay from the Grand Theft Auto developer thrives on the rich story and a cast of memorable characters while offering a melange of remarkable activities built on the best western cliches around. The top-notch writing and voice acting in Red Dead Redemption lend a sense of authenticity to Mr. Marston and his contemporaries, and even though the game doesn’t hold up extremely well visually, it’s not hard to find yourself immersed completely in the wild, wild west.
It’s worth noting that the Game of the Year Edition is also a good buy since it includes the superb Undead Nightmare expansion DLC. And if you’ve packed away your Xbox 360 already, the game is fully backward compatible with the Xbox One — the perfect game to play to prepare yourself for the prequel Red Dead Redemption 2, which released in 2018.
5. ‘Batman: Arkham City’
Batman: Arkham City may be the best comic book game ever concocted. The enthralling story pulls you in from the moment you hear Mark Hamill as the Joker, only to follow it up with superb puzzles and fighting mechanics that take advantage of a slew of iconic weapons from Batman’s arsenal. The follow-up to 2009’s Arkham Asylum finds the Dark Knight trapped in a section of Gotham City that’s been condemned, abandoned, and populated by prison inmates, including several iconic Batman villains, each with their own plans for the Bat to thwart. Arkham City follows the same “one-night game” blueprint, as Batman has been poisoned by the Joker and must find a way to cure himself before the end of the night. Arkham City is also host to the game’s brutal, combo-based combat system and Batman’s several gadgets (which help make traversing the dangerous city a little less stressful) only further its lasting appeal.
Read our full Batman: Arkham City review
6. ‘Grand Theft Auto V’
You know what to expect with Grand Theft Auto: drug dealers, cars, and a colorful cast of characters. The series’ seventh full-length installment is no different, showcasing a fantastic script that’s centered around three complex characters in the stunning city of Los Santos. You can choose to lead the three protagonists through gripping story missions, explore a jam-packed world filled with a welcome sense of joyous nihilism, or even carry out elaborate heists with a little help from your friends in the game’s wild multiplayer mode.
A return to San Andreas County meant a return to the series’ trademark absurdity; where Grand Theft Auto IV‘s Liberty City (and its storyline) felt gritty and slow-paced, GTA V puts its foot on the gas and never lets up. From harrowing car chases with Franklin to rampaging massacres as Trevor, the game provides numerous set-piece moments for its three playable characters to go along with its crass humor and massive open world. Its multiplayer mode Grand Theft Auto Online has also shown a surprising amount of resilience, still absurdly popular more than five years after its initial release.
Read our full Grand Theft Auto V review
7. ‘Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’
Over the years, Call of Duty has earned a sort of stigma: Annual releases with increasingly similar campaigns and multiplayer have soured many players on the brand. As the game that kicked off the trend, however, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, shows why so many fans have returned to series over and over, even as the formula grows stale. From its riveting opening sequence to its epic conclusion, this masterpiece hits all the right notes and introduces characters that personify Call of Duty.
Modern Warfare‘s three-act campaign is packed with memorable moments: Hunt down terrorist leaders in the Middle East, control the skies from an AC-130 gunship, and work to prevent a global holocaust — these might seem like cliches now, but they weren’t prior to the release of Modern Warfare. The game also popularized a customizable class-based multiplayer system that has gone on to become a de facto standard for the genre. If you don’t want to spring for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered on Xbox One, the original 2007 game is backward compatible, as well.
From the moment you begin playing this System Shock-inspired first-person shooter, Bioshock feels like a mystery wrapped in intrigue that you won’t want to stop playing for a single minute. The game’s brilliant sound design and (at the time) incredible graphics help build one of the most unique gaming environments out there. The underwater city of Rapture’s eerie, ’50s-inspired art style and the audio recorders scattered throughout the city create a real sense of history in the ruins of a utopian society that somehow took a terrible turn for the worse.
9. ‘Dark Souls’
If you are the type who enjoys a leisurely gaming experience, skip Dark Souls. The game is one of the most ruthless titles of all time. The genre-defining action-RPG revels in killing you — over, and over, and over again — until you learn from your mistakes. Afterward, it kills you again for good measure. Full of epic, frustration-filled boss battles and find-your-own-way exploration aided only by short messages left by other players, Souls is equally punishing to all who dare to play it. The massive campaign is likely to bring players more pain than pleasure, but the thrill of defeating an enemy you once saw as invincible is tough to beat. Be careful, though, as you might spend three weeks in your basement trying to beat Dark Souls and still come out praising the sun.
Read our full Dark Souls review
10. ‘Fallout 3’
Fallout 3 could have been a disaster. Picking up the scraps left over from developers Interplay and Black Isle Studios, Bethesda blended the apocalyptic world-building of the first two games with its own real-time, first-person gameplay to create a game similar, in many ways, to the company’s Elder Scrolls series. The result was a massive success, and the innovative “VATS” combat system helped to add a layer of strategy never before seen in first-person shooters.
In the years following its release, the spinoff Fallout: New Vegas received similar acclaim, as did the more recent Fallout 4, but it is Bethesda’s first entry that holds a special place in our hearts. War never changes, and thankfully, neither does Fallout 3.