Best Xbox Series X games Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi’s round-up the best Xbox Series X games you can buy in 2021.
Microsoft’s new flagship games console, the Xbox Series X, is literally a game changer. Especially if you have a TV cutting edge enough to handle its new 4K at 120Hz and variable refresh rate (VRR) technologies.
These new features transform not just the way games look, but also the way they play. No longer are enemies lost in a juddering frame. Your aim becomes more lethally accurate. Pixel perfect jumps become easier to judge. And your immersion in the latest survival horror epic no longer has to be broken by nasty screen tearing glitches as frame rates chop and change.
It has to be said that Microsoft hasn’t managed to coincide the launch of its powerful new hardware with many brand new AAA games. The Series X has, however, been enthusiastically supported by both substantial optimised upgrades to existing titles, and a raft of impressive smaller releases from the Xbox’s passionate roster of indie developers.
The Series X’s main improvements are restricted to graphics and processing horsepower; they don’t include a major new audio technology like PS5 3D Audio. Of course, though, the Xbox consoles have long supported both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object based audio for gaming, so it’s no surprise that there are already numerous Series X titles out there that make spectacular use of these immersive audio technologies. What’s more, while Sony’s 3D Audio system currently only works over headphones, the Series X’s Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound can be played over home theatre audio systems for an ultra-precise, room-filling experience.
Without further ado, then, let’s get on with picking out the Xbox Series X games released so far that give your AV system the most vigorous workout.
Forza Horizon 4 (4K, HDR, 60Hz, Dolby Atmos)
The Series X enhancements for Forza Horizon 4 turn an already great looking game into the most flat-out ‘wow’ experience Microsoft’s new console currently has to offer.
Driving around the towns and countryside of an open-world Britain at a native 4K resolution and remarkably stable 60Hz frame rate is an experience that never gets old - and which never ceases to amaze anyone, gamer or otherwise, who beholds it.
The extra textures and detail the game engine throws in, together with HDR that delivers almost eerily realistic skies and on-car reflections, create an almost photo-realistic effect - except that reality seldom looks so gorgeous.
Joining the visual splendour is a Dolby Atmos audio system that can get surprisingly intense when you take time out from just cruising around and actually take on a race or two.
Gears 5 (4K, HDR, 120Hz, Dolby Atmos)
The Xbox Series X updates added to the already very fine looking Gears 5 read like a wish list of everything you’d want from a next-gen title.
The unique and intense multiplayer matches now play at 120Hz, for starters, and the impact this has on your chances of pulling off a killer shotgun blast or perfect sniper headshot cannot be overstated.
In campaign mode, meanwhile, while the game is 60Hz and can’t quite lock on to a full 4K resolution, its dynamic resolution system still delivers much better detail and texturing than the One X version.
A form of software ray tracing has been added too, to enhance lighting effects and bolster realism, and the combination of bold HDR and ultra crispness that’s long been the Gears trademark is ratcheted up again - especially in snow and city locations.
Gears 5’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack, finally, continues to sound as epic as it always has, adding tension and excitement while also helping you track enemies advancing from all sides - especially during the Horde game mode.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (4K, HDR, 120Hz, Dolby Atmos)
Cold War’s graphics are staggeringly good for a game that’s arrived so early in the Series X’s life.
For the campaign we’d recommend setting the console to 60Hz and turning ray tracing on in the game’s menus. This lets you experience the full detail, texture and stunning three-dimensional feel of the campaign’s graphics. The frame rate is reduced, but not to such an extent that the game feels choppy. You really get the full benefit of the game’s outstanding use of HDR in this set up, too.
For online play, though, set the console to 120Hz (if your TV supports that), and then marvel at how astonishingly fluid the environment looks as you pan and spin around it.
The icing on the cake comes from a stellar Dolby Atmos audio mix that’s as rich in precise detail as it is bombastic. It’s truly like being inside your own action movie.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (4K, HDR, 60Hz)
Assassin’s Creed games are usually serious eye candy, so it’s no surprise to find Valhalla giving Series X one of its best looking games to date.
At launch it played in a 60Hz mode that targeted 4K but typically adjusted dynamically to levels some way under that, making up the difference with upscaling. Ubisoft has now added a mode, though, that lets you enjoy stable native 4K at 30 frames a second. Both versions render the game’s epic Nordic landscapes and memorable characters beautifully - though we’ve found we prefer to use the 4K/30Hz mode when we’re in the mood for just exploring new areas, and the 60Hz mode when it’s time to take on a major mission.
There’s no Dolby Atmos alas, and the sound can appear a little low-fi at times, but there are enough atmospherics to keep the immersion up.
Borderlands 3 (4K, HDR, 120Hz, Dolby Atmos)
The most flat out fun game of 2020 has benefitted from a substantial visual upgrade in its transition to the Series X.
You can play Borderlands 3 on Series X in either a 60Hz mode that targets 4K, or a 120Hz mode that delivers a much more fluid experience but drops the resolution to roughly HD levels. Choosing between these is actually a little easier than expected, since while the 120Hz mode feels gorgeous when you’re in the middle of a mass shootout, the hit it delivers to resolution is pretty extreme - exaggerated, perhaps, by the fantastically rich, vibrant cartoony graphics style.
The 4K 60Hz mode, on the other hand, looks insanely beautiful. The extra detail and more consistently high frame rates turns what was already one of the most vibrant and impactful HDR games around into a real Series X showcase.
As if the visual eye-candy wasn’t enough, Borderlands also makes great use of Dolby Atmos - especially in the way it helps you track enemy positions when you decide you fancy barging into a heavily guarded bandit camp.
Dirt 5 (4K, HDR, 120Hz, Dolby Atmos)
While Dirt 5’s straight racing structure doesn’t provide as many opportunities for sheer unadulterated spectacle as Forza Horizon 4, it still takes racing to graphical places we’ve never gone before in the console world.
This is especially true of its 120Hz mode, which sees you flying around the game’s assortment of street, dirt track, ice road and even quarry tracks with astonishing fluidity. The sense of control you get in this Performance mode is seriously impressive too - though the game is too arcadey to get as much value out of this huge frame rate boost as a more ‘serious’ racer might.
This fact, combined with our shameless pixel lust, makes Dirt 5’s Frame Rate mode our favourite, where still impressive 60Hz frame rates are joined by a big step up in car, track and especially environmental detail.
There’s also a Resolution mode that brings out even more texture and detail and adds ‘track damage’ effects, but here the frame rates drop and fluctuate a bit too much for comfort.
Dirt 5’s audio does some really clever things with effects placement and distance illusions via its Dolby Atmos audio mix, too, creating the impression of a world beyond as well as on the track.
Ori And The Will Of The Wisps (Supersampled 6K, 4K HDR, 120Hz, Dolby Atmos)
Stunning Japanese-influenced side scrolling adventure Ori And The Will Of The Wisps is as much a work of art as a game.
Its wistful fairytale graphical style is even richer than that of its predecessor, the hugely acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest - and it’s taken to new heights on the Series X by being available in either native 4K at 120Hz or, uniquely, a ‘supersampled’ 6K resolution at 60Hz.
Enticing though it is to see a side scrolling game sliding by at 120Hz, it’s the supersampling mode that really stands out, adding a sense of extra refinement to all the atmospheric imagery that makes you want to just disappear into Ori’s world and never come back.
The irresistible otherworldly atmosphere is rounded out to perfection, too, by a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that combines a memorable, mesmerising score with all manner of imaginative ambient effects.
NBA 2K21 (4K, HDR, 60Hz)
It would be easy to ignore the latest instalment in the annual NBA game franchise with so many other higher profile new titles to hanker after. In fact, though, NBA 2K21 is in some ways the most advanced looking game on the Series X to date.
Impressively the game engine has been fully rebuilt to take advantage of the Series X’s extra horsepower - and the result is the most photorealistic sports sim ever seen on a console. Detail levels are amazing for both cutscenes and actual play, while the animation is so good you’d swear there are actually 10 small humans running around inside your TV.
Watch Dogs: Legion (4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos)
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Watch Dogs: Legion only runs at 30Hz. Before anyone gets too disappointed by this, though, the game also targets and for much of the time achieves a genuine 4K resolution despite its vast, busy, ‘lived in’ environment. Everything feels ultra crisp and sharp, especially when you’re walking or driving around the city streets.
There’s a pretty good excuse for the 30Hz frame rate, too, in the form of hardware-accelerated ray tracking. This delivers the most effective lighting and reflection effects we’ve seen on the Series X to date, particularly when it comes to recreating London’s streets at night.
Legion doesn’t get a Dolby Atmos audio mix, sadly - though the soundtrack still shifts through plenty of gears during action scenes, and elsewhere does enough with its atmospherics and general sense of ‘hubbub’ to make you feel like you’re living in a real city.