Xbox One Holiday Gaming Preview

Project Scorpio may still be a year away, but Microsoft has an excellent lineup of games for Xbox One fans to get excited about in 2016. From entries in long-running series like Forza Horizon 3, to huge, multi-platform releases such as Dishonored 2 and Battlefield 1, there’s sure to be a game for everyone in the crazy final months of the year. Whether you’re longtime Xbox One player or just recently picked up your new console, these are the games you’ll want to keep tabs on.

Editor’s note: All video game release dates are subject to change.

September

Forza Horizon 3 (September 27)

Microsoft’s Forza Horizon sub-series continues to be one of the best choices for both hardcore racing fans and casual players, offering players beautiful open worlds filled with fun challenges and even more badass cars to drive. Forza Horizon 3 takes the fun to the land down under, Australia, and includes more than 350 vehicles. If you want to race with your friends, a new four-player cooperative mode and a twelve-player online free roam mode give you plenty of options, and with the Xbox Play Anywhere program, Xbox One players can enjoy the game with their friends on PC.

XCOM 2 (September 27)

Set twenty years after humans have been forced to surrender to an invading force of aliens, XCOM 2 continues Firaxis Games’ signature brand of tough-as-nails turn-based strategy, with you now commanding a rebellion force out of a stolen Avenger carrier ship. Unlike most of the other games on this list, we don’t just hope it’s good — we know it isXCOM 2 already came to PC earlier this year. It remains the only game we’ve reviewed that has earned our highest score in 2016, with particular praise going to its wide variety of mission structures and improvements on the already-fantastic formula established in 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

October

Mafia III (October 7)

Eschewing the traditional “crime city” settings of Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City, Hangar 13’s Mafia III takes place in a fictional version of New Orleans called New Bordeaux, where protagonist Lincoln Clay returns after serving during the Vietnam War. After the Italian Mafia murders his surrogate family in the city, Clay builds his own criminal empire, and it’s up to you as the player to decide who controls each section of town you capture. Combat and shootouts are dynamic, with stealth gameplay transitioning into all out gunfights that can see enemy lieutenants barricading themselves behind their army of soldiers. The whole thing is joined by a period-perfect soundtrack of artists like Beach Boys, The Animals, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and The Temptations, along with a 26-track original score.

Gears of War 4 (October 11)

After a five-year absence, the Gears of War series finally returns courtesy of new developer The Coalition. Taking place years after the original trilogy, the new game follows Marcus Fenix’s son, JD as he and his squad fights a new threat, the Swarm. Gears of War 4 returns to the atmospheric, spooky campaign that the original game made so popular, and adds stunning set-pieces in the form of “wind flares” and enormous lightning storms. New weapons include the cover-bending “Drop Shot” and the “Buzzkill,” which looks like something out of a rejected “M” rated Ratchet & Clank game. With Xbox Play Anywhere support, you’ll even be able to play co-op with your friends, regardless of whether they’re on Xbox One or PC.

WWE 2K17 (October 11)

Xbox Live’s “Games With Gold” program gave subscribers access to last year’s wrestling title, WWE 2K16, over the summer, and if you liked putting muscle-bound dudes in headlocks or hitting them over the head with a chair, you’re going to want to check out this year’s edition. The new “MyCareer” mode gives you a chance to train under legendary manager Paul Heyman, become a “Paul Heyman guy,” and wrestle alongside Brock Lesnar. New rivalry options also give you the ability to call out nearly anyone for a special fight, but if they get angry enough, they may attack you before you finish your entrance or even during interviews. Pre-ordering the game will also give the chance to play as Bill Goldberg in both his WCW and WWE outfits, as well as access to the WCE Monday Nitro and Halloween Havoc arenas.

Skylanders Imaginators (October 16)

While its main competition — the Disney Infinity series — has gone the way of the dinosaur, toys-to-life powerhouse Skylanders shows no sign of slowing down, and this year’s game, Skylanders Imaginators, might just be the most creative game in the whole series. Using the “Creation Crystal,” players can change everything on their Skylanders character from their clothing, to their ears, arms, legs, and even their “aura” and catchphrase. The game also includes 31 new “Sensei” characters to collect, which are used to train your creations. Of course, every single Skylanders character you’ve collected over the years will still be playable, as well.

Batman: Return to Arkham (October 18)

If you loved last year’s Batman: Arkham Knight but couldn’t play Rocksteady’s first two games because they were only available on PC and last-generation consoles, you’re going to want to check out Batman: Return to Arkham. Bundled with both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City as well as all their DLC and add-ons, Return to Arkham features many of the series’ best moments, including the Arkham City fight against Mr. Freeze and Arkham Asylum’s Scarecrow dream sequence, as well as stealth and combo-based melee combat that is among the best in the industry.

Battlefield 1 (October 21)

After the somewhat lackluster police spinoff Battlefield Hardline, series creator DICE returns to take the franchise back to all-out warfare, but this time we’re traveling back in time to World War I. With a enormous, open maps that change based on weather conditions, giant “Behemoth” vehicles, and brutal early 20th century weaponry, Battlefield 1 feels right at home in the series, and the open beta that ran early in September gave us a chance to try out a few of its multiplayer modes extensively. If the final game is anything like the beta, Battlefield 1 will easily be one of the best competitive shooters of 2016.

Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 (October 25)

Following a period of lackluster games like Dragon Ball Z: Sagas and Ultimate Tenkaichi, the first Dragon Ball Xenoverse took players by surprise, with a cool original story featuring series favorite Trunks and the ability to customize your own Saiyan, Namekian, or even Majin character. The sequel takes place a few years after the previous game and focuses on the “duality of generations,” focusing on duos like Future Gohan and Trunks, Bardock and Goku, and your playable character from the first game and Xenoverse 2.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition (October 28)

It’s one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, but 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is still a curious omission from the Xbox One’s growing backward compatible game list. If you want to play through the Dragonborn’s adventure again on your Xbox One — or if you’ve never played it at all — The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition is the perfect choice. The remastered version features new volumetric god rays, dynamic depth of field, and updated effects, and it also includes all DLC and expansion packs released for the original game. On Xbox One, you’ll also be able to try out a variety of mods.

Titanfall 2 (October 28)

Building on the fantastic multiplayer formula introduced in 2014’s Titanfall, Titanfall 2 offers a huge variety of Titan mechs to take into battle, wielding everything from flamethrowers to enormous swords. New gear like the grappling hook will allow you to get from point A to point B in a hurry or even jump onto the back of an enemy Titan, but if you get tired of competitive multiplayer, Titanfall 2 also features a full campaign mode. Telling a “buddy” story intended to link humans and their Titans together on an emotional level, Respawn could be crafting the best shooter campaign since its founders released Call of Duty 4.

November

Super Dungeon Bros. (November 1)

Four players are better than one when it comes to fighting undead hordes, as is the case in Super Dungeon Bros., a dungeon-crawler that allows up to four players to fight their way through a variety of locales. The game’s controls seem simple enough, with light and heavy attacks reminiscent of classic brawlers like Gauntlet. If one can look past the game’s embarrassing sense of humor — the games tagline is “Bros B4 Foes” — Super Dungeon Bros. might be a breezy co-op romp.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (November 4)

The Call of Duty series has crept slowly towards science fiction for years, but it’s taking a giant leap into the futuristic combat with its newest entry, Infinite Warfare. No longer limited to Earth, the story will take protagonist Nick Reyes into the far reaches of our solar system, and will feature space dogfights and combat against both humans and robots. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington and UFC legend Conor McGregor portray the game’s menacing villains, who have rebelled against Earth under the flag of the Settlement Defense Front. Multiplayer looks as polished as ever, with the returning “pick 10” system giving players the option to customize their character to suit their individual playing style. Buying the game’s “Legacy,” “Legacy Pro,” or “Digital Deluxe” versions of the game will also net you Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, a modernized version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Dishonored 2 (November 11)

Building on everything the made the original Dishonored one of the best stealth-action games ever made, Dishonored 2 looks to be a bigger, shiner, and more engaging game than its predecessor. With both original protagonist Corvo Attano and the grown up Emily Kaldwin available as playable characters — each with their own unique set of powers — you’re going to want to play through the game more than once. Add in voice acting from Thief’s Stephen Russell, and you have the already mesmerizing universe of Dishonored become ever more gripping. And yes, you can still send out a swarm of rats to eat your enemies.

Watch Dogs 2 (November 15)

Watch Dogs 2 looks to fix the problems that made the original hacking-focused action-adventure a bit of a drag to play. Gone is the gruff, emotionless Aiden Pearce, and the gloomy city of Chicago has been replaced with sunny, hill-filled San Francisco. Nearly every pedestrian can now be investigated using the Profiler tool, and in addition to the seamless competitive multiplayer that worked so well in the first Watch Dogs, the sequel introduces a cooperative mode, allowing one hacker to distract guards with his drones and other electronic devices as his friend slips past undetected.

Final Fantasy XV (November 29)

Though it suffered a small delay, Final Fantasy XV didn’t slip out of its 2016 release window completely. The game’s first section is open-world, allowing you to explore on foot, on Chocobo, or a variety of more conventional vehicles, while the second half will switch to a more linear approach to put greater emphasis on its epic narrative. The story, which centers on the Lucian prince Noctis Lucis Caelum after an attack on the capital city leaves his father dead, appears to be standard series fare, but the more realistic setting and emphasis on companionship offer something we haven’t seen in the franchise for years. Combat is also more action-oriented this time around, making Final Fantasy XV a good choice for RPG newcomers.

December

Steep (December 2)

Just in time for winter and skiing season is Steep, Ubisoft’s new open-world action-sports game. Featuring snowboarding, skiing, and even wingsuit gliding, Steep is all about exploring the beautiful Alps and trying to perfect your acrobatic skills. With a GoPro camera mounted on your character, you’ll be able to replay your best runs in first-person and taunt your friends for their inferior abilities. Steep also features a “drop zone” system to all you to transition to different parts of the game world instantly so you’re never wasting precious riding time just waiting for the lift to take you to the top of the mountain.

Dead Rising 4 (December 6)

Frank West makes his triumphant return to the Dead Rising series, and he’s in the Christmas spirit. Set in Willamette, Colorado and featuring the famous mall from the original game, Dead Rising 4 takes the series’ famous zaniness to new heights, with deadly Slurpee machines, new custom vehicles, and an exo-suit that turns Frank into a nearly-unstoppable walking tank. But as Frank grows more powerful, so do his enemies. New zombies types are capable of dodging your attacks and closing in on Frank in an instant, but he isn’t afraid. In fact, he might just take a selfie with his new friends.

Date TBD

Mayan Death Robots

Mayan Death Robots builds on the formula of the classic computer game Worms, pitting players against one another in 2D, highly destructible levels. Unlike Worms, however, there are no turns. Every player can move and act simultaneously, and the action never ceases. Gigantic bosses will also occasionally appear to shake up the battles, encouraging players to temporarily work together to combat a massive threat.

We Happy Few

One of the most bizarre games slated for release this year, We Happy Few, is a first-person survival game set in a psychedelic dystopia where most people are hopped up on a drug called Joy. Players are part of a small group called Downers who live drug-free, and unfortunately, Joy addicts react to them with extreme violence. The player must navigate the town of Wellington Wells, gathering resources while concealing their identity as a Downer. The visual style closely resembles 2K Games’ BioShock series, which has us especially excited, and though it doesn’t have a final release date, Xbox One owners can try out the first section of the game in Early Access right now.

SpeedRunners

The Xbox One’s lineup of multiplayer games is going to get a little bigger and a lot faster with SpeedRunners, a game in which players race through 2-D levels using tools such as grappling hooks and missiles to screw with their opponents. With a clean visual style and frantic gameplay, SpeedRunners seems like an ideal game for those with friends and a couch. complex, allowing players a great deal of choice in the details of their character. Set in 14th century Bohemia, Deliverance casts players as a nobody who must rise up through the ranks of German nobility. There are plenty of options for weapons and clothing, and players will even need to pay attention to things like hunger and sleep. Kingdom Come promises a lot, but if it can deliver, it should be one of the deepest RPG experiences this year.

Gigantic

Free-to-play MOBAs are a dime-a-dozen on PC, but still a rarity on consoles. Now, Xbox One owners will have one of their own in Gigantic, a title under Motiga’s development. Games of Gigantic pit two teams of five against one another on large maps, with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy’s Guardian, a massive beast with formidable powers. As is typical for the genre, the game emphasizes teamwork and map control, and has a diverse roster of characters.

Aer

With a colorful, cell-shaded aesthetic, Aer has drawn a few comparisons to Wind Waker, and they aren’t merely superficial. The game involves wandering from floating island to floating island, and appears to involve collecting artifacts and maybe even fighting large bosses. The finer details of gameplay are still a bit mysterious, but Aer certainly has a lot of style.

Cuphead

Cuphead marries classic run and gun gameplay with a singular aesthetic, drawing on the cartoons of the ’30s for inspiration. Players control the titular protagonist or his sidekick, Mugman, traversing colorful hand-drawn levels and fighting spectacular bosses. For those who appreciate a good soundtrack, Cuphead has a dynamic jazz score. It remains to be seen how smooth the gameplay is, but Cuphead is certainly one of the best looking and sounding games coming to the Xbox.

Cryamore

Cryamore looks like a game lost in time, an action-RPG reminiscent of SNES games like The Secret of Mana, but with graphics a bit more impressive than old systems could produce. The anime-inspired characters and vibrant world certainly evoke the past, but the developers also promise fast-paced combat and challenging puzzles that should help push the genre into the 21st century.

Adr1ft

Alone in space and running low on oxygen — this is the scenario players quickly find themselves in with Adr1ft, a first-person adventure game set in a ruined space station. The game challenges players to navigate the wreckage in zero gravity, solving puzzles and piecing together the story of what happened. Adr1ft looks to be a claustrophobic, meditative thriller, with the impressive visuals and sound design befitting a next-gen game.

Strike Vector EX

Looking like it came straight out of an arcade in the late ’90s, Strike Vector EX is a console port of the PC dogfighting game Strike Vector. The game allows players to choose from a roster of futuristic aircraft with which they can battle other players in massive environments. The game moves quickly and the controls are tight, as in the flight combat games of old. The aircraft are customizable as well, giving players the opportunity to put their own unique style into their fighters.

Wulverblade

The beat ‘em up is a crucial genre in this history of video games, originating as it did in the early days of arcades, so it’s only fitting that Wulverblade, a new entry in the genre, draws inspiration from actual history, using Roman Britain as a setting. The game puts players in control of a Celtic warrior who must battle through eight levels brimming with legionaries. Old school arcade action meets ancient warfare, in what looks to be a fun if simple game.

Cosmochoria

Not all games need to be a grueling challenge. Case in point? Cosmochoria, a charming space exploration game in which players discover new planets and grow new life on them, essentially playing the role of an intergalactic gardener. There is not necessarily a main quest to complete; players can do what they want, exploring the cosmos or simply sticking to one planet and building it up. Aliens will occasionally threaten the player’s planets, necessitating some quick shooting, so the game is not entirely without challenge.

Space Engineers

Sandboxes in games keep getting bigger and bigger. With Space Engineers, the sandbox has expanded to a galactic scale. The game allows players to explore planets and build spaceships, structures, and other objects, with the promise that everything in the game can be broken down or used to build things. Players will also be beset by pirates and aliens, so survival skills will come in handy. Like Minecraft-in-space, Space Engineers aims to provide a challenging sandbox that rewards creativity.

Alpha Muse

Music-based games often get weird, but Alpha Muse seems like one of the strangest additions to the genre in years. In the game, players guide a sphere through psychedelic environments as a song plays underneath. Players can collect objects to add layers to the soundtrack, altering the music through their play. Developer Current Circus promises that community will be an important aspect of the game, with players sharing the songs they’ve created and maybe even collaborating with each other.