The best Xbox games of 2020

By Luke Albigés,
You won't find many people who will tell you that 2020 was anything other than a stinker of a year, but it certainly had its merits. Few merits, sure, but merits all the same. Despite world events complicating development, many studios still managed to pull through with some exceptional titles, and we even had a pair of new consoles to help take gaming to the next level... if you were able to get your hands on one, that is. While we finish up collating the masses of data to bring you the results of the TA Game of the Year 2020 voting very shortly, we decided we'd get the TA news team to put their heads together and produce a list of the ten best games for the year. Several arguments extremely polite conversations later, here's that very list. Enjoy!

10. Tetris Effect: Connected

Tetris Effect: Connected Achievements

There are some folks out there who would tell you that Tetris is a perfect video game. Those people are correct. Tetris Effect: Connected builds on that puzzling perfection with presentation that is out of this world, using audiovisual themes reminiscent of Lumines to give the familiar block-dropping action a swanky new suit for its next-gen debut. That's not all it brings to the table, mind. The 'Connected' part of the title refers to an all-new cooperative multiplayer mode that plays out as a 3v1 battle against an AI opponent insistent on ruining your perfectly organised well. Hold out long enough against this rudeness, however, and you can earn the opportunity to combine all three player wells into one giant one where you all place pieces together, taking the fight to the 'boss'. That's right, Tetris has raid bosses now. What a time to be alive.

There's the odd set of block designs and backgrounds that can be a little hard to read at speed, but with so many modes and variations on offer, you'll quickly learn which work for you and which don't. The eclectic Journey mode provides a whistle-stop tour of most of these, shining a light on the glorious visual design and killer soundtrack, as well as letting you play with the super-satisfying Zone mechanic which can allow you to clear a bunch of lines in quick succession. Tetris Effect: Connected is on Game Pass, too, so you have no excuse not to try out one of the best versions of the puzzle classic that we've ever seen.

9. Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics Review

Going from the frantic ultra-violence of the mainline Gears games to slow, considered turn-based combat in Gears Tactics is one of those things that seems like it shouldn't work, but somehow, it just does. This tactical shooter likely would have made this list purely based on the PC version that launched in April, but we got a pleasant surprise later in the year when it was announced that Gears Tactics would also be coming to Xbox Series X|S at launch, as well as Xbox One. Unlike some other games of this kind, controls map surprisingly well to console, letting you execute your master plan with ease. It still has the look, the feel, and even the attitude of classic Gears, just with a new type of gameplay powering the carnage.

Genre swerves like this are a fantastic way for fans of one style of game to find out that they actually really enjoy another, with the familiar style and setting easing them into an experience that might otherwise feel completely alien. And with Gears Tactics being another Game Pass highlight, you're free to give it a whirl whether you think you like strategy games or not. You might just surprise yourself...

8. Call of Duty: Warzone

COD Warzone

When Call of Duty: Warzone launched earlier this year, it introduced some unique twists and features that the tired battle royale genre hadn’t seen before. Not only did Warzone bump up the player count in a match to 150, but it also added an exciting gameplay mechanic called The Gulag, where eliminated players could fight for a chance at redeployment in a one-on-one duel instead of being removed from the match. Couple this with that superb gunplay the Call of Duty series is known for, a colossal map that’s varied in its buildings and locations, and a price point of free, and you’re on to a winner.

Matches can go from being quiet and tactical to guns-blazing chaos within minutes and managing to pull off a win in the Gulag and subsequently going on to be the last person (or squad) standing is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming currently. With game modes and content swapped out frequently, and the recent introduction of a new map, Warzone is fantastic fun not only with friends but also solo, which is why the battle royale game makes our Game of the Year rundown.

7. Carrion

Carrion ~ SuperHeroArt

It's rare that a game gives players a proper crack at being the bad guy, and even rarer that a game does it as well as Carrion. You've played enough games where you fight or run away from some monstrous mass of flesh, fangs, and tendrils — now it's time to become one. As you escape from the lab where you were previously held, you get to exact squishy, bitey revenge on scientists and security alike, devouring your former captors to grow in size and grossness while searching out other biomatter to gobble up in order to expand your arsenal.

Countermeasures are quickly deployed so you need to be smart in your escape, hiding in vents and picking off hapless guards one by one rather than charging towards a flamethrower and getting charred to a crisp. The pace is always changing as new abilities are unlocked and new hazards introduced, making for a short but sweet slice of murderous monster mayhem that offers something completely different to any other game out there. Scuttling around as a horrific blob creature feels amazing, even when you start getting revoltingly huge and grow impossible to control anywhere near as effectively as before. At its largest, the beast feels like an absolute unit — a rare example of intentionally awkward controls working out as this mess of flesh slops around like an inside-out Octodad.

Stop us if you've heard this one, but Carrion is another featured game that is available on Xbox Game Pass, and it's a pretty popular one on this site in particular for how quick and easy its achievement list is. You can even double-dip with the PC version (also on Game Pass) for a second stack, which is always nice.

6. Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3 ~ SuperHeroArt

Love the original Fallout games but now can't see the number 76 without bursting into tears? You've come to the right place. Wasteland 3 can be seen as a spiritual successor to those early Fallout titles, since producer Brian Fargo actually played a prominent role in the series' inception. While Fallout continues to dance around post-apocalyptic wastes in real time with only the VATS system to hint at its turn-based origins, Wasteland 3 stays true to its roots. With some of the genre's development greats behind this game, it shouldn't be surprising that Wasteland 3 is superb, fusing challenging turn-based strategy encounters with a flexible RPG progression system and compelling narrative, all wrapped up in that same blend of dark humour that made Fallout at its peak feel so special.

For newcomers to this kind of game, Wasteland 3 might feel a little daunting with its many moving parts and difficulty level that doesn't pull punches. It's absolutely worth forcing through the fairly low barrier to entry (genre veterans should just be able to step over it), as a lot of the complexity feels to be front-loaded and it isn't long before you'll get your head around the basics and be free to roam. And yes, once again, it's included with Game Pass. Go get wasted.

5. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Remaster

Remakes and remasters are everywhere these days, but they don't come much better than this. After several bailed attempts to get the fan favourite series back on track, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 finally managed what its predecessors couldn't and sent us hurtling back in time to the glory days of the franchise, ska punk classics and all. THPS1+2 features all the stages from the first two games, while adding mechanics introduced later in the series for maximum combo potential. The result is a simply superb score attack game where you can lose hours to just perfecting a single line, and there are even a bunch of new challenges that will require you to do that.

While it plays heavily on nostalgia, there's more to it than that. Controls, visuals, and options all feel slick enough for the modern age, and you don't need any prior experience of the series to jump in and have a damn good time. Some may prefer a more grounded skating game — something a little closer to actual skateboarding than to the arcade score-chasing on offer here — but anyone who is on board with combos that outlast session timers and scores in the millions will find this to be THPS at its very best.

4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon ~ SuperHeroArt

There's no denying that swapping action gameplay for turn-based RPG combat was a huge risk for the series, but few could have predicted just how well it would work out. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a masterpiece, flinging JRPG sensibilities into the franchise's usual intriguing narrative and drama-laced cutscenes, and somehow making it all hold together. It veers violently from glib and wacky to dark and serious, an emotional roller coaster where you can never be sure what the game will throw at you next. You might be solving a murder one moment, then find yourself singing karaoke a few minutes later, before popping down to the confectionary shop you're somehow president of just in time for an important shareholder meeting. Which plays out like a classic Dragon Quest battle, because of course it does.

The cast of characters is genuinely superb — new lead Ichiban Kasuga in particular, who slips effortlessly into regular protagonist Kazuma Kiryu's still-warm shoes — and while Yokohama might not be especially big, it's still an absolutely gorgeous setting and one packed with assorted nonsense to see and do. It's not often that a game can keep you guessing for a run time pushing 100 hours, but Like a Dragon does precisely that without even breaking its stride.

3. Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator review

If you had to sum up Microsoft Flight Simulator in one word, it would be 'monumental.' The mad geniuses at Asobo Studio actually managed to put the entire world in a video game — it’s a truly remarkable feat of game design. Using data collated from Bing Maps, players can visit any place their heart desires on planet Earth in plenty of unique, varied, and extremely detailed aircraft. Thanks to some clever procedural generation, buildings and structures are, for the most part, in their correct locations, with more notable landmarks receiving the hand-crafted treatment. It’s really quite exciting to fly over the area where you live that’s been recreated with considerable amounts of detail — even the trees in a local park are in the right place.

It’s hard to find fault with Microsoft Flight Simulator. The visuals are gorgeous, with aircraft models painstakingly detailed, the weather effects are second to none, and the simulator is surprisingly accessible. Although you might be missing out on some features, it’s easy enough to fly a Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental from JFK to Heathrow with just a controller. Sure, it’s going to take you seven hours of real time to do it, but you’re going to need 1,000 hours for one of the game’s achievements, so that’s nothing really!

2. Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Assassin's Creed Valhalla ~ SuperHeroArt

Assassin’s Creed Origins introduced big changes to the AC series. When Odyssey came along, it picked up those ideas and ran with them. Odyssey was almost too ambitious for its own good, and while it was a hugely enjoyable game, it didn’t always live up to its own expectations. Enter Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

Valhalla takes those open-world RPG ambitions again and shores them up with a more fully-realised game world and a darker story, for an all-round fantastic action-RPG. It’s set in Dark Ages England, where Viking invaders like Eivor, our main character, are looking to settle. Because of this, the gameplay experience has changed somewhat — it doesn’t make sense for a hulking Viking invader to be best friends with all the locals, so instead of the sort of side quests we had in Odyssey, Valhalla leaves you to explore the world with mysteries, artifacts, and side stories. You’re free to explore whichever area you want (even though some will need you to be a lot stronger before you can survive for more than a few minutes there), but it’s not as overwhelming as Odyssey thanks in no small part to the game’s settlement feature.

The progress Eivor makes in each of the warring kingdoms of England is reflected in the Alliance Map at your settlement, Ravensthorpe, leading to a feeling of real progression, while the settlement itself gives the huge world a much-needed centre of operations for Eivor to get settled in. It’s a much-needed feature which stops Valhalla falling into some of Odyssey’s pitfalls. With a beautiful game world, better gear and progression systems, and that irresistible premise of running around living the Viking life, Valhalla will no doubt keep you hooked for a long time.

1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Oh Ori, you wonderful creature. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is Moon Studios' magnum opus, an exploration-based platformer which is arguably best in class. Movement options are plentiful and extremely satisfying, with several potent new abilities joining returning favourites like the awesome Bash, and combat is vastly improved over the original game with more options in terms of both weapons and attacks. It certainly doesn't hurt that Ori's second adventure is even more beautiful than the first, and seeing this running in 4K (supersampled from 6K, which is just showing off) on Xbox Series X has been a highlight of playing around with the new consoles. Coupled with the beautiful and customisable HDR implementation, it's a downright stunning game, and the image quality is second to none.

Just like the original did, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will make you feel feelings. Such feelings. The first game managed to make you emotionally invested in its opening minutes, and this is even more emotionally potent as a result — with an entire game's worth of connection to this adorable little thing, the highs soar higher than ever and even the slightest of lows will have you convinced that someone is chopping onions behind the sofa. The game might have been marred by some slight technical issues at launch, but with Moon being both quick to get its house in order and ready with one of the most impressive Series X|S updates so far, Ori and the Will of the Wisps as it exists today is a game truly worthy of the highest praise.

There you have it: our picks for the best games of 2020. We'll be back imminently with the results of the community poll, and it'll be interesting to see how similar (or indeed different) the two lists are, so be sure to check back for that. For now, though, let us know below if anything featured here comes as a surprise, if we've missed anything you expected to see, or how you expect the community data to differ from our list...
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.
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