The start of the current console generation was not particularly kind to Microsoft. As PlayStation 4 sales rapidly outpaced the Xbox One, it seemed as if the console might be dead on arrival. After a rough few years, the Xbox One has endured, thanks to new and enticing hardware like the Xbox One X. More importantly, the console has an excellent, diverse selection of games, granting access to both AAA spectacles and infinitely replayable indies.
After two lackluster campaigns in Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, Electronic Arts and DICE finally managed to pull it all together and deliver the complete package in the World War I-themed Battlefield 1. Focusing on several soldiers’ experiences during the “war to end all wars,” the campaign delivers emotional, heartfelt moments that contrast with the large-scale, destructive warfare for which the series is known.
As polished and exciting as the campaign may be, multiplayer remains the real star of the show. Returning modes such as “Conquest” and “Rush” feel right at home in their World War I setting, with wide-open spaces, armored trains, heavy tanks, and “Behemoth” vehicles help create what is possible the most chaotic Battlefield game ever made. The new “Operations” mode, which takes teams across a series of multiplayer maps in an all-out, extended version of Conquest, is where Battlefield 1 is at its absolute best. The 64-player firefights see both teams clawing forward to try to get the advantage, while the game’s environmental destruction system sends buildings plummeting to the ground left and right.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is the perfect introduction for Xbox One owners new to Microsoft’s console line. Containing the four numbered games in the series — sorry, Reach — it’s enough content to keep you busy for weeks on end. Halo 2: Anniversary, a remastered classic with new cinematics and sound effects, is an incredible game that occasionally even shows up Halo 5.
As you may have heard, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was a bit of a mess at launch, but the game’s server issues have stabilized. There are more than 100 maps to choose from, spanning from the original Halo to Halo 4, and though the majority are remastered versions of old favorites, a select few were rebuilt from the ground up specifically for the collection. Of course, if you’re like us, you’ll be spending all your time blowing your friends up in “Blood Gulch” anyway.
Taking inspiration from Bloodborne, the studio’s PlayStation 4 exclusive, Dark Souls III speeds up the Souls series’ distinctive tough-as-nails combat, without sacrificing what made fans fall in love with the franchise in the first place.
Though Dark Souls III continues the series’ legendary difficulty, even the most menacing foes can be dispatched through a mixture of practice and patience. The loop of killing enemies, trading in their souls to upgrade your character, and venturing back into the unknown will keep you glued to your console for hours at a time. If you ever get really frustrated, you can always summon a stranger to join in on all the fun.
It’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing another game in the Dark Souls series from From Software and mastermind Hidetaka Miyazaki, but we couldn’t be happier with Dark Souls III as a conclusion to the series. It’s the work of a genius who has only further refined his art over time, and a shining example of how to make a franchise successful without sacrificing the more “hardcore” gameplay elements.
Inside, the spiritual successor to developer Playdead’s smash-hit platformer Limbo, is perhaps the strangest game available on the Xbox One. Its puzzle-solving gameplay blends elements of science-fiction with creepy, trial-and-error death traps, and emergent gameplay mechanics seamlessly into its narrative.
While just as nihilistic as Limbo, Inside‘s story contains an element of strange, twisted beauty that only Playdead can deliver. The unnamed protagonist — a small child who wears the only bright item of clothing — reacts with fear, anxiety, and determination to the events transpiring in this depressing world. By the end you may wonder, “what did this person do to deserve this?” And what did we do to deserve a game as refreshing as Inside?
Id Software’s reboot of the iconic Doom franchise is a perfect example of how to adapt a classic game for a modern age without abandoning its roots. Returning to Mars and the depths of Hell, the game’s narrative is simple, but still manages to be a perfect nod to the ’90s. The original “Doomguy” returns, conveying emotion and a twisted sense of humor without saying a word. Flipping off your enemies has never felt so satisfying.
But if its combat didn’t deliver, Doom would have been forgotten as soon as it arrived. Fortunately, an arsenal of ridiculous weapons, such as the Super Shotgun and the BFG, make their glorious return, and an army of vicious demons provide a level of challenge not often seen in today’s shooters. The whole experience moves at blistering speed, too, forcing you to stay on your toes and rapidly switch between your weapons as demons swarm to your position.
Doom also features a small but very memorable selection of boss battles. Using every trick and strategy you’ve learned up to each fight, these high-intensity moments can end in your death with just a few slips of the thumbsticks. Yet, at the same time, finally conquering them will stand among your proudest gaming achievements.
Overwatch has become nothing short of a phenomenon since it launched in May. The team-based “hero shooter” features a refreshing take on objective-based multiplayer action that emphasizes teamwork and strategy over brute force.
With a selection of more than 20 playable heroes, plus at least one additional character added for free through post-release updates, Overwatch encourages you to experiment with different styles of play. Though Soldier: 76 may appeal to longtime shooter fanatics and Reinhardt seems like the obvious choose for RPG lovers, you’ll quickly find that keeping teammates alive as Mercy or holding down a crowded area with Hanzo can be just as rewarding.
Recently, developer Blizzard also revealed a plan to make Overwatch a much more varied game than what was initially advertised. Its “main” mode is certainly a class-based shooter, but the addition of the “Lúcioball” — a take on soccer very similar to Rocket League — has turned the game into a very viable sports destination. With more surprises in store and a growing community of players, Overwatch may very well go from being the best multiplayer shooter of the year to the best multiplayer shooter of the decade.
The prestige of the AAA game has faded in recent years as high-profile releases come out seemingly half-finished and riddled with bugs year after year. Amidst a plague of disappointing franchises and broken open-world games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt emerged, a savior every bit as welcome as its weathered protagonist. Developer CD Projeckt Red’s commitment to its audience (a slew of updates and free DLC followed the game’s release) stands out at a time when most big games seem hastily assembled or even exploitative, but make no mistake: in any era, no matter how great, The Witcher 3 would stand out.
Following up on the events of The Witcher 2, the game follows the continuing adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter searching for his lost lover, Yennefer, and Ciri, the child they raised. Although its central plot offers a long and entertaining quest, there’s far more to the game than finding Geralt’s loved ones. The world is massive, dense with characters great and small who have their own problems they’d like Geralt to solve. Whether its exorcising a spirit haunting a village or helping a blacksmith rebuild his business, there are hundreds of little adventures to go on, and some even intersect in surprising ways.
The world of The Witcher is dark. An early scene finds Geralt riding into a war-torn province, the camera pulling back to reveal a massive tree from which prisoners of war have been hanged. It’s a grim image, and it sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Often the game will present choices that can have wide-ranging, unforeseen consequences. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Despite all the gloom, there are moments of warmth: an orphan reunited with relatives, drinking games with Geralt’s war buddies, a night of passion with an old flame. Wildly ambitious and epic in scope, The Witcher 3 is a watershed moment for role-playing games, setting a new gold standard the genre.
Hideo Kojima is one of the few big budget auteurs in the games industry. After more than twenty years and a feud with publisher Konami, Kojima’s final game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is hell of a note to end on, as MGSV refines the series’ signature stealth gameplay to near perfection, while expanding the the setting from confined military bases to an open world.
The Metal Gear series has a long and winding plot, but newcomers will find MGS V relatively easy to slide into, as Kojima has jettisoned much of the mythology in favor of a more straightforward revenge tale. Nine years after the events of the prequel Ground Zeroes, in which the mercenary crew led by protagonist Snake was destroyed by the mysterious organization Cipher, Snake awakens from a coma, missing an arm and under threat from assassins. After a harrowing escape from the hospital he’s been sleeping in (a nightmarish opening that shows off Kojima’s directing chops), Snake joins up with his old comrades to rebuild their mercenary army and take revenge on Cipher.
Although story has always been the main draw for Metal Gear, MGSV eschews lengthy cutscenes and monologues, instead focusing on open world gameplay that provides the player with countless ways to approach any mission. Tranquilizers, sniper rifles, shotguns, a remote controlled robot arm; all this and more is available, giving the game an endless sense of replay value. After completing a mission using a stealthy, nonlethal approach, one may feel the urge to replay the same mission, marching into an enemy outpost with a machine gun and a rocket launcher, burning the whole thing to the ground. Few games encourage experimentation like MGSV. Some questionable narrative choices aside, MGSV is a powerful ending to one of gaming’s most important franchises, setting a new bar for open-world gameplay.
Monolith Production’s 2014 open-world action game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor managed to perfectly blend the gameplay of two major franchises — the Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham series — while adding the “Nemesis” system, a mechanic that procedurally generated orc rivals. Though it was a pleasure to play, the game was short and its world felt tiny, limiting the amount that players could experiment.
The 2017 sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, fixes nearly every problem fans had with the original — it’s set in a ludicrously large open world, has a beefy story mode, and enough side quests to keep players busy for hours. Its combat and traversal systems were, wisely, barely tweaked, and the addition of fortress assaults made for some of the most intense and challenging moments in the entire game.
While the game launched with annoying micro-transactions, they’ve been removed in a giant patch that also cut down some of the game’s more tedious elements. Playing the game now is even better than if you’d picked it up at launch.
The ‘Horizon’ spin-off takes Forza’s class-leading graphics and physics, then transplants them into an open-world racing game with a wide variety of events and vehicles. Realism goes out the window, but for many players, that’ll be fine — in fact, ‘Horizon’ will be more fun. ‘Forza Horizon 3,’ the latest iteration in the series, sends players to an open-world approximation of Australia. You can easily spend 40 or 50 hours completing events and unlocking secrets solo, but the fun is amplified if you have a few friends to team up with. They can duck in or out of your game seamlessly, and vice versa, so you don’t have to spend too long staring at menus and waiting for a race to start.
A new game in the franchise, Forza Horizon 4, is set to release on October 2, 2018.
The launch of Diablo III is infamous. Hotly anticipated, the game was hit with awful server issues and serious gameplay flaws that simply sucked out the fun, like a real-money auction house. Thankfully, Blizzard revamped the game through a number of patches and one full-blown expansion. Then, it released the game on console with support for up to four players in co-op. The result is a fiendishly entertaining, supercharged action-RPG that’s a blast to play with buddies on a couch or online. While other RPGs have a better story, or better graphics, Diablo III is pure stress relief. Sit down, obliterate some demons, and watch your numbers shoot into the stratosphere.
Replacing the dark, gloomy setting of Chicago with sunny, tech-heavy San Francisco, Watch Dogs 2’s attitude is decidedly lighter than the original. No longer are you playing as a vigilante out for revenge on those who wrong his family, but as a young, mayhem-causing hacker who believes that the underground “DedSec” organization is the best line of defense against increasingly invasive automation and surveillance systems. Hacker hero Marcus Holloway cracks jokes, taunts his enemies, and does backflips off of walls instead of just climbing down — he’s the polar opposite of Aiden Pearce, and that’s a very good thing.
The hacking tools offered in the original Watch Dogs have also been significantly expanded, allowing you to directly control other citizens’ (or the cops’) cars to cause chaos and a major distraction as you attempt to escape from a crime scene, and the “Profiler” tool has been enhanced, now letting you hack nearly every person you encounter.
What is there to say about Fallout that hasn’t been said before? The latest game from Bethesda has everything one expects from their games: a massive open world, hundreds of ways to customize a character, quests and stories hidden in every nook and crannie, and of course an unfortunate (if funny) slew of bugs. Fallout 4 doesn’t reinvent the Bethesda formula, but it does build upon it in some interesting ways. As with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the game drops players in the middle of a postapocalyptic wasteland with a big overarching goal (in this case, to find your kidnapped son.) From there, players are free to explore the world, doing whatever quests they feel like, and treating the wasteland like one big sandbox. There are guns to collect, mutants to fight, wacky characters to talk to (or murder, if that’s your thing.)
This should all sound familiar to fans of the series. Perhaps the biggest addition is that players can help build settlements, constructing homes, defenses, and other things a community needs to thrive in the wastes. The crafting system encourages obsessive scavenging, and provides a regenerative aspect to a series that has so often seemed bleak. Watching towns rise from the rubble provides a sense of hope, echoed by the relatively lush environments, where the gray and brown are tinged with fauna returning to the world. Fallout 4 won’t convert anyone who has disliked Bethesda’s past games, but veterans of the wastes will feel like coming home.
Long-delayed sidescroller Cuphead had impossibly high expectations to live up to, but StudioMDHR managed to meet and surpass them. The classic run-and-gun 2D shooter is as ridiculously difficult as games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, with platforming sections that require pinpoint accuracy and bosses that are among the most punishing we have ever seen in a video game. Using a variety of shots fired from his fingertips, the titular hero — and an optional brother — but keep their blasts focused on enormous enemies while also dodging a wave of attacks. Just a few is enough to send you back to the very beginning of the fight.
Cuphead’s biggest draw, however, is its gorgeous animation. Inspired by classic 1930s Disney cartoons, the game’s characters and environments were drawn entirely by hand, creating a lovingly retro look that is unlike anything else on the Xbox One. A filter is even applied on top of the visuals to add imperfections such as dust and cigarette burns, making it appear as if it were being screened in a movie theater.
Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL franchise has long been criticized for only making incremental changes each year, with roster updates and slightly prettier graphics. Madden NFL 18, however, moves the chains forward more than most sports games. Dropping the Ignite engine in favor of the company’s Frostbite technology, football in a video game has never looked prettier, with better animations and more realistic player models. Players move on the field with more weight and momentum, so you won’t have to accustom yourself to the more “video game” elements in order to become a football star.
The biggest change in Madden NFL 18, however, is the addition of the “Longshot” story mode. Starring acclaimed actors such as Scott Porter and Mahershala Ali, as well as legendary quarterback Dan Marino, the mode follows a former football start trying to redeem himself and land a spot on an NFL roster. The mode features brilliant performances, as well as light football gameplay to drive the story forward. It even has multiple endings, so you’ll have to play through it more than once in order to get the full experience.
British developer Rare is known for its vibrant and goofy worlds filled with larger-than-life characters. With open-world pirate adventure Sea of Thieves, the studio has played to those strengths, while cultivating new gameplay experiences we’ve never seen before. Armed with a sword, a pistol, and your wits, you’re sent out into the unforgiving open sea in search of treasure and bounties in order to increase your reputation with the game’s three main factions — you can join a crew of up to three of your friends in an enormous Galleon ship, armed with eight cannons capable of decimating enemies’ hulls.
Much of the fun in Sea of Thieves comes from your interactions with other pirates, rather than the quests you actually set out to complete. At any moment, other players can spot your ship and begin chasing you down, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll be sinking to the bottom of the sea. With everyone working in harmony, you can defend against nearly any threat, and occasionally you’ll even put aside your differences with other players in order to complete a larger objective. That is, of course, if you don’t double-cross them and murder them when their backs are turned … not that we’d know anything about that.
The Gran Turismo series was once the king of the racing simulator, but that time is long gone. Forza Motorsport 7 is the latest in Turn 10 Studios’ stunningly gorgeous line of Xbox One racing games, with the most realistic cars and tracks ever rendered in a video game. It can be borderline “car porn,” but for those who fawn over the smallest details of automobiles, including the fabric of seats and the stitching on steering wheels, Forza Motorsport 7 is the game you need to be playing.
The changes in Forza Motorsport 7 are incremental compared to previous games, but they still add up to the best version of a racing game that had already claimed the top prize. The artificial intelligence is smarter in races, making each victory that much more satisfying. The cars are varied and fun to drive, and there are more than 700 available to choose from. And though the game lacks the variety and player-driven progression of the Horizon games, its attention to detail is simply second-to-none.
So much is made of the technical aspects of graphics, it is easy to forget how far a strong grasp of style can go. With striking watercolor backgrounds and character designs that evoke Miyazaki films, Ori and the Blind Forest is among the most beautiful games of this or any other generation, putting many AAA titles to shame. The sensuous visuals would suffice to make a great film, but a game needs gameplay, and Ori shines there as well. Inspired by classic games like Metroid, the game puts the player in control of the nimble forest spirit Ori, who must navigate a large 2-D world, collecting items and abilities that allow Ori to reach new areas. Certain abilities are necessary to complete the game and thus are easy to find, but there are many things hidden off the beaten path, rewards that adventurous players will find useful.
Despite its adorable protagonist, Ori and the Blind Forest is a viciously difficult game. Combat often requires the player to dodge numerous projectiles, pirouetting through the air as they fight enemies, and some sections add difficult platforming into the mix. Thankfully, the game is generous with checkpoints, a welcome gift from an otherwise harsh mistress. For those who long for the challenges of old-school games, Ori and the Blind Forest is a revelation, infusing Metroid’s style with modern sensibilities.
Building off of the success of Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm’s Injustice 2 has quickly become our favorite fighting game of this generation of consoles. A myriad of mechanical tweaks enhance fight sequences, making the combat loop more intuitive and exciting. Presentationally, Injustice 2 has some of the best character models and facial animations around, and makes good use of them in its surprisingly great story mode.
Injustice 2‘s best selling point, though, may be its robust customization and leveling system. Each fighter levels up and can be customized with gear obtained through loot boxes. The RPG elements are more than just a tacked on feature, they feel at home in Injustice 2. Combine the addicting leveling and customization features with the Multiverse — a constantly changing portal with reward-filled scenarios — and Injustice 2 easily becomes one of the greatest single player fighting experiences of all time. Simply put, Injustice 2 is the best fighting game you can find on Xbox One.
Arkane Studios’ reboot of Prey shares nothing with the Id Software’s 2016 shooter from which it got its name, but it does carry on a legacy of sorts. The latest game from the studio behind the Dishonored franchise follows in the footsteps of immersive, open-ended first-person action games like Deus Ex and System Shock 2. You play as Morgan Yu, and at first it seems like an ordinary day as a new worker on the Talos-1 space station. But that ordinary day is on a Groundhog Day-style loop until Morgan realizes that not everything is as it seems. The station is in chaos, and monstrous alien creatures with deceptive cloaking abilities take control of Talos-1, forcing Morgan to adapt and survive.
Prey capitalizes on atmospheric tension, making each encounter with the inky creatures that much more exciting and terrifying. In order to fully immerse you into the world of Talos-1, Arkane Studios rendered the facility with expert detail. As you progress, Morgan gains “neuromod” abilities such as Telepathy, giving you more than just standard gun and melee weapons to toy around with. All the while, Prey‘s story unspools in a methodical pace, forcing players to make choices that always have consequences.
Recently, Prey received a DLC called Mooncrash that adds a new, unique pint-sized gameplay chunk that’s not a direct extensive of the main story. Another upcoming DLC called Typhon Hunter will add a multiplayer mode with VR support.
Microsoft is heading to Gamescom next month to showcase all-new Xbox bundles and accessories. The company isn’t revealing any details prior to the show, but merely states that gamers should expect “a few surprises."
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