2015 – the year the Xbox One came of age. Picking the best Xbox One games of 2015 hasn't been difficult. With so many great titles to choose from, if anything the real challenge has been deciding what to leave out. And, you could argue, some of the best additions to the Xbox One's arsenal haven't been new game releases at all, but instead features like a refreshed dashboard and the much-lauded return of backwards compatibility.
But that's not to knock the top-quality games on this list. A stellar year for role-playing games particularly, these are the best Xbox One games of 2015.
Let's be clear up front – when it comes to games, there's no such thing as a "definitive" best of list. We've all got our favourite genres and personal preferences, and as an interactive medium, gaming's one of the most subjective forms of entertainment you can partake in. Not every game on this list will be for you, but, hopefully, most of them probably will be.
As such, we've picked the games here in a mostly unscientific way, but we'll show our workings as transparently as possible. Firstly, all Giz's game-playing team members have discussed their favourite games of the year at length (we play A LOT of games) to come up with this list before whittling it down to a personal shortlist. In an attempt to prove we're not just raving fanboys and fangirls, we've added an expert comment from a game reviewer beyond the confines of Gizmodo (and linked to their original review). Finally, we've added each game's Metacritic score to give a taste of the wider critical reception, too. The following list is in no particular order...
Best Xbox One Games of 2015:
Halo 5: Guardians
After such a long wait for a brand new Halo game (no, The Master Chief Collection doesn’t count) Microsoft’s Xbox One finally found room for its mascot title. Though its single player campaign’s story suffered from weak characters, there was no denying the dynamism and thrill of its multiplayer offering. There’s no shooter that feels quite as punchy as Halo, and Halo 5’s new movement options and weaponry added to an already heady mix. With a phenomenal four player co-op mode, it shouldn’t leave your Xbox this Christmas.
Here's what IGN's Brian Albert had to say:
In its 14 years, Halo has never felt so good to play. An updated arsenal and great new mobility mechanics give both campaign and multiplayer a modern touch without sacrificing Halo’s classic feel. It fails to introduce its new Spartan characters in a meaningful way, and the story does make some odd logical leaps, but it’s still fast, beautiful, and fun – especially with four-player co-op. Guardians’ multiplayer harkens back to the Halo 2 glory days with tons of balanced maps and fun modes, and the tactical new Warzone mode absolutely steals the show.
Metacritic Score: 84
So, if you've been reading Giz at all this year you'll know we've got a soft-spot for the Fallout series. The post-apocalyptic RPG-come-shooters from Bethesda offer giant, densely-packed open worlds and irradiated delights/monstrosities to discover. Plus, you get a pet dog. Always a good thing. Fallout 4 was easily the most hotly-anticipated game of the year and despite some grumbles about the game's visuals and stray bugs, it delivered handsomely. From building settlements to exploring the ruins of Boston there's just so much Fallout 4. You could easily sink 200 or more hours into what Bethesda have created here, and while it's not all uniformly polished, it's all uniformly interesting.
I’ve bought into the new generation’s promises of a magical tech future, and came in to Fallout 4 with my own set of expectations based in part on other, more polished big-budget games. But Fallout’s appeal has always transcended that. The fact that so many people are willing to tolerate Bethesda’s so-called “jank,” that so many people love games like Fallout and Skyrim in spite of and even sometimes because of that jank, is a testament to these games’ deeper appeal.
Metacritic Score: 88
Star Wars Battlefront
You love Star Wars, right? Of course you love Star Wars. Everyone does. Which is why I can confidently say you'll love Star Wars Battlefront too. It's not the best shooter on this list – look to Destiny: The Taken King for a more meaningful campaign, or Halo 5 for a more comprehensive set of play modes and multiplayer options – but it is the only game on this list where you can take part in the Battle of Hoth, take out some Rebel scum in an AT-AT and then skewer Skywalker on the end of Darth's lightsaber. Even if the shallow gunplay wears thin, you'll be stirred back into action by the incredibly-detailed visuals and long-memorised John Williams score.
Kotaku's Nathan Grayson said:
Battlefront is not the best game ever, and it’s certainly not the best shooter ever. To top it off, I’m worried about its ability to keep people entertained long-term, something crucial for a healthy multiplayer game. But there’s a feeling of childlike joy to playing it and thinking about it. It’s a game I will probably not go back to regularly, but when I want some silly, Star-Wars-flavoured fun, I’ll be happy to have it waiting on my hard drive.
Metacritic Score: 75
Honourable mention: Evolve
Though man-vs-monster shooter Evolve didn't have the licensing might of Battlefront nor it's own staying power (its servers are now disappointingly barren), that should be no slight on the game itself. A resolutely team-based asymmetrical multiplayer shooter, it pits a team of hunters (each with unique skills) against an ever-evolving, towering monster (controlled by a lone player). It's tense, and tracking the monster through the game's sci-fi jungles genuinely feels like how I'd imagine being a tracker must do. Dig through the bargain bins, pick up some cheap copies for you and a handful of mates, and surprise yourself with this year's most underrated shooter.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
2013's Tomb Raider reboot was just short of revelatory, taking heroine Lara Croft (whose recent adventures had flagged massively in the wake of the "Uncharted revolution") and re-imagining her as a gritty survivor, thrust unwillingly into the role of daredevil adventurer. It was also lacking in the very tomb raiding that gives the series its name. Rise of the Tomb Raider sorts that out – Lara's now a fully-fledged archaeologically-inclined globe trotter, with the game featuring some of the most ingenious (and, for solely action fans, optional) puzzle tombs the series has seen. The writing's tight as the previous game, and the combat just as punchy too, with a new focus on stealth and weapon crafting.
Kotaku's Evan Narcisse had this to say in his full review:
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s greatest success is in how it encourages exploration, which in turn makes you feel more connected to its fictional world. Every hapless corpse in the frozen Russian wastes is a reminder that Lara’s moving through a place that’s killed many others. As I played, she came across as increasingly gifted, with enough spirit and ingenuity to find ways to see herself through to the other side. This Lara isn’t a wide-eyed newcomer, nor is she a flinty veteran. She’s somewhere in between. Rise of the Tomb Raider makes me want to follow her where she goes next.
Metacritic Score: 87
The first sign that Microsoft was going to push big on backwards compatibility, Rare Replay is as loving a collection of thirty retro titles as you could hope for. The fact that they come from the (once, at least) stellar stable that is Rare only sweetens the deal; returning to classics like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Viva Pinata, all presented in wonderful 1080p resolution with reams of trophies and unlockables is a treat, while oft-underrated titles like Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo also get one more chance to shine. Great value, great fun.
Gamespot's Peter Brown had this to say:
Rare's games have a way of speaking to you with respect. They embrace video game conventions and rarely take themselves too seriously. Expressive characters warm your heart and catchy and complex soundtracks stick with you long after you turn off your console. Rare Replay is a great way to experience some of the best games from the studio's past, and the new videos that document Rare's storied history are the icing on the cake; it's just a shame that you can't access them from the start.
Metacritic Score: 84
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Do you like your RPGs filled with sex, monsters and violence? Have you rinsed your Game of Thrones boxset? Do you have several hundred hours to spare and a soft spot for beardy, gravelly voiced men? Then The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is for you. A game truly worthy of the overused "epic" description, it's a dark, brooding, expertly-written open-world RPG with enough quests and lore to make Tolkien blush. It also looks gorgeous, with inventive monsters to battle, giant cities to explore and the best in-game horse since The Ocarina of Time's Epona. Following months of a generous drip-feed of DLC, the first "proper" expansion, Hearts of Stone, proved just as worthy of your attention too. A must-have, even if you've never had an interest in the series or RPGs in general before.
Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton puts it best:
Wild Hunt is a grand adventure that feels distinctly of its time. It manages to set new standards for video game technology while accentuating the fleeting nature of technological achievement as an end unto itself. It is a worthy exploration of friendship and family, mixing scenes of great sorrow with scenes of ridiculous lustiness, tempering its melancholy with bright splashes of joy and merry monster guts. Come for the epic showdown between good and evil; stay for the unicorn sex.
Metacritic Score: 91
Destiny: The Taken King
Despite hooking in millions of players, Destiny had a rocky launch. A great shooter, yes, but not quite the MMO-lootfest Star Wars-rivalling space opera that Bungie had promised. The Taken King expansion fixes all that. Finally, there's an endgame worth playing, some method to the loot madness, and something approaching a worthwhile story. All the while keeping that wonderful, weighty shooting. If you haven't dipped in before, The Taken King certainly shows Destiny at its best yet, though you'll have to get to the upper levels of the game to appreciate it at its finest.
Tom Phillips of Eurogamer rounded it up thusly:
With this expansion, Bungie has changed the foundations of Destiny for the better. This expansion is far larger, its focus far wider than anything that has gone before, and it has lifted the entire Destiny experience as a result - whether you start the game now, return after some time away or never stopped playing. By focusing on improvements to the game's story, as well as the stories players will forge themselves, Bungie has made The Taken King a hugely successful addition.
Metacritic Score: 90
Ori and the Blind Forest
If one genre has been a little under-represented this year on Xbox, it's the side-scrolling platformer. Thankfully, Ori and The Blind Forest more than makes up for it. Delivering a heart-wrenching tale and some wonderful, fantastical visuals to gawp at, it has some of the tightest, most-satisfying platforming of any game in recent memory.
Gamespot's Kevin VanOrd said:
It consistently surprises you with new tricks: gravitational divergences, new ways to move through its spaces, and carefully designed levels that require you to think quickly and respond. It is not as snappy as, say, a typical Mario platformer, seeking instead a broader gameplay arc stretching across a single, interconnected world. It's a superb and thematically consistent approach that allows Ori and the Blind Forest to build joy on a bed of heartache, adding a new layer of mechanical complexity with each ray of hope.
Metacritic Score: 88
Batman Arkham Knight
Be the Bat. Truly, totally, be the Bat. The Batman Arkham games have long been trail-blazers when it comes to both superhero games and licensed properties, but Arkham Knight was something else. It just gets everything about Batman so right, from its portrayal of the rogues gallery villains to the feeling of gliding above the incredibly detailed Gotham City. Meaningful side-missions rival the best that the main story has to offer, while the plot is a twisty-turny masterpiece that puts even Nolan's efforts on the ropes. And, though it was knocked at launch, spend enough time upgrading the Batmobile and you'll find it's every bit the nightmare on wheels that it should be. A real class act, and a fitting way to end the series. Shame about the PC version, though.
Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead said:
The gameplay is good, and very often great, but we knew that already. It's a known quantity. As a Batman story, this is something else. It dares to tackle not just the surface details of the character, but explores his psyche. It portrays him as, frankly, kind of a dick and also as a man of unflinching honour. The Batman of Arkham Knight is a complex, contradictory figure, a hero with real depth and dimension, and we get to wear the iconic cowl for one last mind-boggling night of mayhem. Miss out on that? You must be joking.
Metacritic Score: 85
Metal Gear Solid V
Depending on who you talk to, Metal Gear Soild V isn't only the best Metal Gear game. It isn't even only the game of the year. It's the best game ever. I'd say that's pushing things a bit too far (it's still all about nonsensical and melodramatic unless you've religiously played every other game in the series), but the quality of its stealth-action gameplay is undeniable. Cinematic in scope, visionary designer Hideo Kojima provides you with wide-open battlefields to exploit with all manner of gadgetry, making each mission a thrilling exercise in covert planning and execution. Throw in a very good multiplayer mode, and it's another few hundred hours sat gripping your gamepad.
GamesRadar+'s Dan Dawkins was blown away:
MGS5 is a masterpiece. It's hard to imagine another AAA game that will be allowed a five-year development cycle, yet feel so completely the work of one man. A game where you can visit a prisoner's cell and hear Joy Division, just because it's the director's favourite band. MGS5 is a worthy legacy, and its imprint will be felt in open-world games for years to come. Just try re-visiting GTA 5 and experience the frustration of not being able to Fulton Extract a storage container, let alone use its contents as part of a complex micro-management resource simulation. Kojima has set a new bar for open-world control and depth of interaction.
Metacritic Score: 95
Anything we've missed? Sign off with your games of the year and why you've chosen them below.