Jez's 15 best Xbox One games of 2016

"Missed expectations" could sum up my feelings about games in 2016. I expected DOOM to be weak, but it turned out to be amazing. I expected The Division to take over my life, but it lasted me all of a week or two. And I expected Final Fantasy XV to be terrible, but it turned out to be pretty great. I also didn't expect I'd be awarding a fairly low-key indie title as my personal game of the year for 2016.

Windows Central editors have already voted for our official best Xbox One games of 2016, and you should definitely check that out. But these are my personal picks, navigating those fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and subjective reasoning.

15. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

I loathe to include a remaster but man, Skyrim is just too damn good. I've sunk hundreds of hours into this game on Xbox 360 and PC, and Skyrim Special Edition came around at just the right time for me to want to jump back in.

Skyrim Special Edition adds a bunch of new visual effects and enhancements, breathing new life into the 5-year old RPG. It also comes with all of its DLC packs, including the huge Dragonborn expansion. If that wasn't enough, Skyrim Special Edition also boasts an enormous amount of mods on Xbox One, bringing everything from new gameplay elements to bug fixes. This is an essential purchase for any RPG fan unless you're still burned out from the first time around.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

14. ReCore

ReCore was a fun action platformer that I maintain is deeply underrated. While the game is flawed, it was among my favorite titles of the year for its unique action combat, charming characters, art, and intriguing premise.

ReCore reminded me of how I felt when I played State of Decay for the first time. The sense that it was a low budget effort from a smaller team brimming with love and good intentions that weren't fully realized. Like I expect State of Decay 2 to rectify the first game's shortcomings, I sincerely hope a ReCore sequel gets greenlit down the road for the same reason.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

13. Overwatch

Overwatch (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Overwatch took me by surprise. Up until the game's public beta test, I'd completely dismissed its existence, having gotten long bored of Team Fortress 2's brand of class-based objective-heavy multiplayer FPS. But rather than copy the formula, Overwatch advanced it.

Blizzard's brand of easy-to-play hard-to-master really shines in Overwatch. Its deceptive simplicity helped it achieve a large player base relatively quickly, but the way its 23 heroes' abilities overlap and interact makes Overwatch explosively dynamic, and players are constantly figuring out new ways to exploit the game's maps and mechanics. Competitive FPS fans should at least give Overwatch a try!

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

12. Far Cry Primal

Having found Far Cry 4 a little tedious, I was really impressed with Far Cry Primal, which received a relatively low-key launch in February 2016.

Ditching the drugs, guns, and criminal underworlds of previous games, Far Cry Primal takes the franchise into a Mesolithic paradise, as beautiful as it is savage. Far Cry Primal's open world is one of the most beautifully realized out there, and its combat is every bit as brutal as you might expect. Just watch out for those honey badgers.

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11. XCOM 2

XCOM 2 has been available on PC for a while, but it landed on Xbox One in the summer of 2016 bringing its alien-mashing turn-based strategic goodness along with it.

XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game that tasks players to overthrow an alien force that has taken over the world. Build up your base, research new weapons, and deploy them in battle, XCOM 2 is as addictive as they come. And I bloody love it.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

10. Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 felt like the return of an old friend after years apart, chainsaw in one hand, chain grenade in the other.

Gears has always been a couch co-op tradition in my family, and I was super pleased that The Coalition managed to include split-screen despite Halo 5's disappointing failure to do so. Beyond a solid story campaign, Gears 4's Horde mode is the most addictive and rewarding in the series, allowing you to progress various classes with new abilities and skills. Gears 4 is also an Xbox Play Anywhere title, making it a great option for gaming on the go.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

9. Battlefield 1

Battlefield 1 is one of the most celebrated shooters of 2016 and for good reasons. Battlefield 1's sobering reconstruction of the horrors of WW1 is brimming with meticulous authenticity while paying homage to those lost in the senseless conflict.

Battlefield 1 examines the first industrial-scale war with grace and technical prowess. It is one of the most gorgeous games on Xbox One, taking place across gargantuan open maps for up to 64 players. With levels of environmental destruction not seen since Battlefield Bad Company 2, intense and atmospheric visuals and sound, and the most brutal Battlefield combat in the entire franchise, this is a must-buy game for fans of tactical multiplayer FPS.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

8. Layers of Fear

Here's another game that took me by surprise. I'm generally not a fan of horror games that ditch combat mechanics as a way to invoke vulnerability, but Layers of Fear isn't your typical horror game.

Layers of Fear is more like an interactive story, following the tragic tale of a failing professional artist, and how his declining mental state affects his family around him. As you dive deeper into the story, the walls of reality begin to melt, drawing towards a prolific and maddening conclusion. Layers of Fear is set in the first person and uses clever camera tricks and your peripheral vision against you, invoking the same paranoia felt by its characters.

Layers of Fear is full of wonderful subtleties and is well worth considering if you're open minded towards games that are a little different.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

7. Quantum Break

Quantum Break was easily one of 2016's most underappreciated games, both in terms of its gameplay and delivery.

Quantum Break, developed by the legends at Remedy Entertainment, made use of big-budget actors to produce a slick action game that incorporated a live action TV show. Sadly, the live action portion didn't resonate with a lot of critics, who felt it neutered the game's pacing. There are some valid criticisms to be made of Quantum Break's TV segments, but it was carefully designed to be optional, telling a tale that ran concurrent to, but not consequentially to, the main playable campaign. Both the live and digital performances from the likes of Lance Reddick, Shawn Ashmore, and Aiden Gillen were stunning.

Quantum Break is a pure action adventure game, where your super-hero powers to bend space in time are at the forefront of your arsenal, with guns as a means to execute enemies wrapped in pockets of gorgeously shattered time.

I think Quantum Break deserved a better critical reception than it got, and like Alan Wake, it will probably achieve some degree of cult status down the line. For its explosive visuals, satisfying combat, and great characters, Quantum Break will retain a special place in my Xbox library.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)


I played SUPERHOT at Gamescom 2014 and appreciated its unique, bullet-time puzzle-shooter gameplay. But when it launched last year, I discovered the game was so much more than it seemed.

SUPERHOT weaves a metanarrative where you play as yourself, discovering a cracked VR game called "superhot.exe." The game shatters the fourth wall (and maybe even the fifth and sixth) in clever ways, making you wonder what exactly is real, and what is part of superhot.exe.

One thing holds true. SUPERHOT is one of the most innovative shooters I've played in years.

See at the Xbox Store (opens in new tab)


From the (slightly deranged) minds at Playdead comes INSIDE, hot on the tail of their critically acclaimed puzzler Limbo. INSIDE shares common themes with Limbo, from its side-scrolling perspective, dark and twisted setting with a young, troubled lad as a protagonist. INSIDE is strewn through Limbo's proven formula taking the format to all-new terrifying dimensions.

INSIDE is relentlessly polished, hauntingly beautiful, and deceptively subtle, with a climax that is equal parts shocking, and maddening. This is one puzzle platformer every Xbox owner should try.

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DOOM is the fist-pounding return of one of the franchises that started it all while proving the old idiom: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Ditching DOOM 3's shift to survival horror, DOOM revives the classic shooter franchise by taking it back to its gory, demon-slaughtering roots. DOOM espouses a sort of gameplay purity often lost in modern FPS titles, while deconstructing genre stereotypes it helped create. Make no mistake; id Software reclaimed its throne as shooter royalty with this game, and every shooter fan should pick it up.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

3. Astroneer

Here's another huge surprise this year. Astroneer practically came out of nowhere for me towards the end of 2016, and I've barely been able to put it down.

Astroneer is an Xbox Play Anywhere UWP title that works across Xbox One and Windows 10, allowing players to craft, build, and explore procedurally generated worlds in outer space. Despite its Game Preview in-development status, Astroneer is easily one of 2016's standout titles for me, and it will be an exciting one to watch as it moves towards its full launch in 2018.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

2. Final Fantasy XV

Runner-up for my game of the year in 2016 is Final Fantasy XV, although you might not think that from the fairly critical review I gave it recently.

My reasons are pretty dumb: I just love Final Fantasy. The common lore, the creatures, and characters, all hold a dear place in my heart, as it is the franchise that opened my eyes to gaming as a passion, rather than just a pass-time.

FFXV is by no means perfect, in fact, I'd argue that there are far better games on this list, but I was simply so happy that FFXV wasn't a total train wreck after spending over ten years in development hell that it became one of my biggest gaming joys this year.

Simply seeing enemies like Tonberries appear towards the end of the game put a smile on my face. Facing off against a Malboro, battling gigantic summons like Leviathan. After waiting for so long to put FFXIII behind me, and while waiting in vain for FFXIV to hit Xbox One, FFXV pressed all the right buttons for my inner child longing to experience something as good as Final Fantasy VII again. I just hope that the future of the franchise will make for better games, and will enjoy far better execution and project management. It will be interesting to see where Final Fantasy goes from here.

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

1. The Flame in the Flood

And finally, my game of the year for 2016 was The Flame in the Flood!

Every time people ask me what my favorite game of 2016 was, I immediately think of The Flame in the Flood. The atmosphere, the gameplay, the soundtrack, and the warped visuals hit all the right notes for me, and it effortlessly takes place as one of my favorite Xbox One games of all time.

The Flame in the Flood is a survival roguelite which has you guide Scout and her trusty canine companion, Aesop, downriver in a post-societal America. There are no zombies in this apocalyptic world, and no human enemies. It is Nature itself that's trying to kill you, and you need to use every scrap you can scavenge, every drop of water you can filter, and every morsel you can consume to survive.

Some of my most tense, most moving, and most memorable gameplay moments occurred as a result of The Flame in the Flood's dynamic, procedurally generated world, brimming with emergent dangers and carefully balanced mechanisms to aid your journey. I loved this game, and hopefully, you will too!

See at Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

Bonus: GWENT: A Witcher Card Game

Considering this game is only in closed beta, I felt it was unfair to include it on the list. But, it's already one of my favorite games on Xbox One.

One of the most surprising aspects of The Witcher 3 was Gwent, its addictive card-based mini-game. Modders quickly went to work spinning Gwent into standalone versions, and CD Projekt RED even printed some physical cards from the game.

Citing fan feedback, the studio began work on a real standalone version of Gwent, set for release sometime in 2017. Even in its early form, Gwent is highly addictive, rewarding, and satisfyingly strategic. The full game will support content roaming between Xbox and Windows 10, and will even feature an RPG-like single player campaign. This is one to watch.

Over to you!

What were your favorite games of 2016? Is there something I'm crazy for not including? Let me know in the comments!

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • TBH, I'm actually shocked to not see The Division on here. But, without having played ANY of the games on this list, I can't say it's better than any you picked. 
  • I liked The Division, I thought the shooting mechanics were much crisper than Rainbow Six Siege, but I kept getting distracted by other games.
  • I felt like the end game was a real mess :( I was super disappointed with it.
  • Try Survival ;)
  • Shouldn't have to wait half a year for fixes. That aside, survival for me isn't what I signed up for. It was advertised as an MMOTPS. Something its endgame fails at miserably even today.
  • I think it's easy to leave it off. For starters, if you're a reviewer, finding the time to fully immerse in it to appreciate it is harder. Secondly, the game launcched with a lot of poor balancing and weak things that chased folks off (myself included).
  • Battlefield 1 has me stuck with little time for much else. Still got Inside to finish, which is such a lovely game. Nearly bough Flame and the Flood last week in the sale, just £7, but Christmas attacked my bank balance hard. Layers of Fear sounds interesting. Re-core, Gears and Doom may get a look later this year. Almost bough Halo Master Chief Collection for £6.99 (digital download), but was worried I would not get time to play it. Wondering what games may get remastered for Scorpio.
  • 1. Inside; 2. Fru; 3. Quantum Break; 4. Firewatch; 5. Oxenfree; 6. Kung-Fu for Kinect n.b., I have not yet played Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, or Dead Rising 4, which all seem pretty cool. I played Overwatch and did not like it. My most played game of 2016 was Halo 5.
  • Oxenfree, is it good?
  • I enjoyed it. I think it's better than any Telltale game in the 'choose your own dialogue' adventure genre.
  • There are a few games on this list that might have made it had I played them, including Virginia, Oxenfree, Firewatch, and Dishonored 2, finding the time is super tough though.
  • For me it was Forza Horizon 3 followed by Rocket League and QB.
  • Jez, no Forza?
  • I think Forza Horizon 3 is the runaway winner for me. I want to give DOOM​ more love, but the multiplayer disappointed long-term. MLB 16 The Show​ is probably third. Battlefield 1​ can be next, but I haven't played a whole lot of it. Quantum Break​ is fifth because they lost my game save in the last chunk, so I never got to finish it. That's a level of game-breaking bug that shouldn't happen, and is impossible for me to overlook (the story wasn't good enough to warrant replaying 80% of it to get the last 20%). Lastly, The Division​. I had extremely high hopes for that game. However, 2016 really was just the year Ubisoft died for me. There wasn't enough of a story, difficulty, or content variety at launch. Then, the bugs chased people off. Then, Ubisoft went full speed ahead on pushing agendas in their games, and I decided I was just done listening to them. I also played free weekends of Titanfall 2 and ​Overwatch​. The former was definitely better than the latter, but neither was worth a purchase.
  • Oh my god we agree mostly. Hahaha. Although I would say Quantum Breaks story and storytelling is phenomenal and mln the show is a Sony made game not on Xbox.
  • Yeah, I know with MLB​, it's just that calling something and "Xbox game" when it's not a Microsoft-exclusive is little more than cheap filler to hide the lack of quality exclusives in the MS stable right now.
  • I'm not quite sure its baron. There's nothing really on PS I've wanted all gen. Possibly Uncharted 4, but I got bored half way through 3. My list I own on Xbox pretty much is all exclusives. In fact the only current game that's available on PS I'm playing now is Diablo 3. I'm also playing Lost Odyssey, FH3 and Gears 4. Just finished Ori and having a break from Killer Instinct. About to Preorder Halo Wars 2, then after that buying Sea Of Thieves and Scalebound. Probably will buy Inside soon as well. Not to mention I'm still playing Halo 5 and Fora 6. Haven't played Recore yet or the Rare Collection. Also looking at getting Fallout 4 VR which is Xbox exclusive confirmed by Bethesda due to underpowered PS4Pro and PSVR. So many future VR games will be exclusive to Scorpio also.
  • Agreed, the PS4 was lacking until VERY recently, but I see it turning in Sony's favor now--probably because MS axed so many studios. The Sony exclusives I have right now are Bloodborne, MLB, and ​Ratchet & Clank. However, going into next year, I want to ge both ​Kingdom Hearts​ remakes, MLB, and Horizon​. I will also be stoked to try Detroit: Become Human​ when it makes it to PS4. On the flip side, there isn't a single exclusive MS has announced for 2017 that I know I want. I might try Scalebound​, but was unimpressed with what I saw at E3 2016 (after being interested prior to that gameplay reveal). Forza Motorsport lacks the variety of ​Forza Horizon​, so I am not interested in the one likely to launch this coming fall. I also don't know that I want Halo 6, given how bad its predecessor was. Crackdown and Halo Wars​ don't interest me--especially when the full story of Halo Wars is $100 (I would want to play the first to understand the second). I got Rare Replay​, and played it for about two days, then didn't care anymore. I thought ReCore​ looked very shallow, which is how reviews ended up making it sound as well. Sea of Thieves looked like something that needs a big group to enjoy, otherwise you're doing some boring wandering stuff I might equate with No Man's Sky​ (though the former has much more potential with its group play). Never been a fighting game fan--got KI​, didn't enjoy it. Gears 4​ offered so much of the same we have had from that franchise for a decade that I passed on it. As for Fallout VR​, still waiting on a GotY release of that game. I made it 3 hours, it had a major bug, and I decided to just skip it for a while. If they get a full version released, I might buy that later.
  • Haha. I guess different tastes. Horizon is made by GGames. So have very little faith considering how poor Killzone was. Kingdom Hearts for me is the most overated RPG of all time. And being outside the UK I hate Baseball. Lol. I actually feel this year is one of Sonys weakest ever. And half the games they announced for this year are again being pushed back. They spent So much time making their own VR system they have very little in the way of exclusives. It's like MS and Sony have switched around this gen. For me at least MS have alot more in the exclusive department that actually seems worth it. FF7 remake would have got me a Ps4 but then they showed it and showed the world they completely killed the game.
  • Personally FF15 is a baron mess. But each to his own. And no Forza Horizon 3 at all is blasphemy. It's up there as possibly the best game of 2016.
  • As with other folks here, I was shocked not to see Forza Horizon 3 in this list. I'm only a casual racing game fan, but FH3 is amazing.
  • Skyrim is still King 👑
  • I'm on Rocket League almost daily, and The Witness has consumed me for the last week. I've beat every puzzle, so far (90%?), with zero answers from the internet.
  • Forza Horizon 3 and Rocket League should be on this list. Steep is addictively fun too.
  • Ya I keep hearing about this steep game. I got this awesome friend that talks about it :)
  • Dissapointed to not see Dishonored 2 and Titanfall 2 in this list.
  • Ive got 3 of these games. :)I may get more on pay day.
  • My list.... 1. Titanfall 2. Gears 3. Battlefield 4. Quantum Break. 5. DOOM 6. Recore. Don't like racing games (Forza) or JRPG'S (Final Fantasy). After I finish Recore and DOOM. I'm looking for an open world game like The Witcher, DR4 or Just Cause. The Witcher is pretty cheap right now, but am struggling to decide if I want to dump all that Tim into it.
  • is forza horizon 3 not on this list??  lol... smh.  
  • I enjoyed of what I saw of Jez's FFXV gameplay, and will likely pick it up in the future :)