We’ve condensed ‘Microsoft’s mighty debut home-console gaming catalogue’ into the 10 best original XBOX games of all time (that was just as hard to write as it was for you to read!). Are you the type of person that has alerts set up for the Xbox Mini release date? Was your first console an XBOX One and you’re now looking for the games that helped to launch the XBOX brand to greatness? Are you just bored of reading the same news on the Series X? Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
I remember when the XBOX first came out, and I’m going to be honest; I never thought it would take off back then. Nintendo and Sony were the masters of the home-console ream, and Microsoft made PCs. The best GameCube games reigned supreme in my eyes (even though the PS2 sold 155-million units), and this new console was trying to sneak in and steal a piece of the pie. Not only did it steal the pie, but it ate the whole lot, baked some pretty gnarly sequels, and went on to become a household name. Shows how much I knew back then (N.B – for employment purposes and a clause in my contract, I must stress that I know a lot more now…!)
The XBOX went on to sell 24-million units (2-million more than the GameCube, but who’s counting…) and paved the way for the XBOX 360, which would go on to sell a whopping 84-million consoles. Many of our most beloved Microsoft titles were born on the XBOX, with the 360 becoming a platform for HD versions, prequels, and further titles that would propel all of the games in this list onto the XBOX One and beyond.
As with any of our best games articles, it’s so hard to whittle them down to just 10 titles (I had to do 20 for the best N64 games because it was impossible to choose my favourites). I spent a lot of time playing the titles on this list with my dad when I lived at home, and the amount of hours I put into the game at Number 1 doesn’t even bear thinking about! But you didn’t come here for my life story; you came here for the best original XBOX games of all time, so let’s crack on!
10. Burnout 3: Takedown
Burnout 3: Takedown is one of my all-time favourite racing games, purely because it had lots of other elements to it that separated it from other titles of its kind. Apart from being an integral part of the game, the Takedowns were so cool, filling up that boost meter for that all-important speed-shove to get in front of your opponent or to beat your previous high score. It was critically acclaimed on release, with gaming bigwigs calling it the greatest racing game ever made. That’s pretty high praise when Need for Speed was tearing up the streets at the same time!
Burnout 3 had just over 170 levels spread across three continents, each one with stunning scenes and memorable corners that got you every single damn time! For me, one of the most exciting parts was unlocking new cars. With 67 sweet rides to choose from, you were always bound to unlock a favourite sooner or later, and playing this game was the only chance that I’d ever have to ride some of those sweet vehicles! Give it a go, and I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
9. Jade Empire
Next up on our list of the best original XBOX games is Jade Empire, a stunning action RPG with an epic plotline and some tasty graphics to say that the XBOX could only throw out 480p. Taking inspiration from ancient Chinese tales and folklore, this game even had its own language – that’s some J.R.R. Tolkien stuff right there! There is a morality element to the game, with certain actions revealing a certain path that the player may unwillingly find themselves wandering down. Every action has a purpose and a meaning, and it’s up to you how your character changes throughout the game.
Players take control of a Spirit Monk whose gender is chosen at the start of the game. You must chat with dragons, defeat Lotus Assassins, accomplish death-defying feats and unlock hidden mysteries along the way. Skill points can be collected to harness and upgrade different abilities, and there are other elements to consider such as falling in love with other characters at certain stages of the game. It’s very much like Fable, but in Ancient Asia, and the original score and storyline are what made this game so incredible. The world is rich and full of exciting adventure, and Jade Empire is a game that you won’t ever want to put down.
8. Beyond Good & Evil
I first played Beyond Good & Evil on the GameCube and got hold of a copy for the original XBOX a few years later. It’s one of these games that never leaves you and is kind of a cross between Prince of Persia, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, and Starfox Adventures. It stars Jade, a photo-snapping adventurer with a bad-ass stick and a whole heap of martial arts skills. If you like solving puzzles and sneaking around, then this is one of the best original XBOX games that should be in your collection. Along with a pig called Pey’j, you must fight your way through an exciting world in the year 2435. Cue robot warriors and evil overlords!
Ubisoft certainly know how to make a good adventure game, and Jade is a powerful protagonist that means business. She’s on a mission to save some captured orphans and can use her camera to get currency that can be spent throughout the game. Use other characters for gnarly combo moves and wield your combat staff like a boss. Jade can run, climb, push, pull, sidle, sneak, and fight her way through each of the levels, and there are tonnes of problems to solve along the way.
7. Halo: Combat Evolved
Shooting games were never the same after Halo: Combat Evolved crashed into our lives. The Master Chief was, and still is one of the coolest super soldiers alive, and this game definitely paved the way for other titles like Destiny further down the line. It’s one of the first shooting games that I can remember with such an open map. The landscapes were huge, the vehicles were huge; everything was huge! I still remember the first time that I climbed into a truck and mowed down enemies while ploughing through the jungle. Ah; memories!
The Master Chief is a super-enhanced soldier from the 26th Century. He has an artificial-intelligence unit called Cortana (which would go on to become the XBOXs answer to Siri) and must defeat aliens while discovering the circular world of ‘The Halo’. Of course, the single-player mode was unreal, but it was the multiplayer that really shone through. Putting such an amazing game as a launch title was an incredibly clever move, and with the Master Chief at the helm, the XBOX was always destined for greatness (I know I should have seen it at the time – I was one of those people that thought Link would beat Master Chief in a fight…I bet he still would).
6. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Star Wars titles are always a winner in my book, and the next game in our list of the best original XBOX games was one of the very best. A new spellbinding story, interesting characters, and lightsabers – what’s not to love! This game has a similar style to Jade Empire and the worlds are just as stunning and richly created. It’s set 4,000 years before the formation of the Galactic Empire, but the Sith are still trying to kill off the Jedi and visa-versa. Characters can either turn towards the Light Side or Dark Side of the force as they progress through the game depending on their actions and the people that they interact with. Let’s be honest though; turning to the Dark Side has gotta’ be way cooler, right?
You play as a Jedi and can choose from either a scout, a soldier, or a scoundrel (I’m guessing the last one is more of your Han Solo type). Other characters can join in the fight in true RPG action, and you can even make use of force powers later on through the game, undoubtedly the best move in any sci-fi series. The game contains over three-hundred different characters that you can come into contact with and fifteen thousand lines of speech – now that definitely sounds like a Lucas Arts production. If you’re looking for a game that you can truly get lost in, then Knights Of The Old Republic should be high up on your wish list.
5. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
The next title on our list of the best Original XBOX games is one that made me curse and shout in anger so many times. Stealth games were always something that I wished I was good at, and while I loved Pandora Tomorrow, I was totally terrible at it. Sneaking around with a gun in the shadows was awesome though, and like Burnout 3 with the cool cars, this is the closest that I will ever come to being a spy. If you liked Mission Impossible and Goldeneye (let’s face it – who didn’t), then this will have you jumping behind the sofa to shoot your cat with a banana in no time.
Pandora tomorrow is the sequel to the first Splinter Cell game and sees the return of Sam Fisher as the main protagonist. If I could walk around in black-ops-style uniform with night vision goggles without getting funny looks, I totally would. Then again, if anyone looks at Sam wrong, he can just shoot them. Slow and steady wins the race in this game; gung-ho attitudes will get you killed in a matter of minutes! Shoot while hanging upside down, SWAT turn past doorways, lug bodies around, take out enemies with laser-sight precision; this is all the stuff that kids dream of doing for a living!
4. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
There are very few shocking titles out there in the world than the GTA series, and Number 4 on our list off the best original XBOX games was one of the loudest, crudest, and exciting of them all. Based on real-life street gangs and their turf wars in 90s LA, this title revolves around the made up state of San Andreas. You’ll find guns, fast cars, drugs, tonnes of money, crime, and sex in this game – basically all of the good stuff. These games are designed to push boundaries and let players go a little wild, prompting concerned mothers all over the world to have ongoing battles with their children about how inappropriate they are. And judging by the incredibly odd ‘Hot Coffee Mod’, I reckon they might be right! (Look it up if you’re unfamiliar with it – it’s NSFW stuff). Still, that’s why we love San Andreas, and we wouldn’t change a thing.
San Andreas follows the same pattern for using incredible acting talent providing the character voices as the rest of the GTA series, with appearances from David Cross, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice T, and Young Maylay as the main man himself. The game itself is pretty much a ‘free for all’ no-holds-barred title, with money being earnt through burglary, defeating rival gangs, or killing someone with more of it than you. Gamble, ride souped-up cars, and generally be a bad-ass gangster. Whoever said that the XBOX didn’t provide you with original experiences!
3. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
If you’re a self-confessed fantasy nerd who knows every house sigil in Game of Thrones but still gets confused as to whether their partner’s birthday is the third of the fourth or the fourth of the third (my girlfriend is a long suffering hero), then the Elder Scrolls is probably already one of your all-time favourite games. Bethesda are the masters of open-world gameplay, and this is the kind of RPG that the kids in Stranger Things would have dreamt about playing every night (if they were alive in the 80s…or real people). I say that because it’s strongly based on the D&D franchise and features some epic quests that will leave you begging your friends to come round dressed in capes to watch you play.
The game sees the main character being brought to Morrowind for a pardon; it’s a theme that you’ll recognise from other titles in the series and a nod to the fact that things are probably going to get worse for you from here on out. Like many games on this list, the player can choose a class and develop certain skill attributes while travelling through the different levels while you prepare to battle an evil god. The plot is like Lord Of The Rings on turbo mode and is so complicated that It would take me another hour to explain it in terms that were easy to understand, but that’s what makes RPG games so exciting – role play is supposed to be nerdy, after all! Once again, the XBOXs graphics look incredible considering the output and the game itself was so immersive I could lose myself in it for hours. It’s a true gem and, unsurprisingly, another winner of ‘game of the year’. This console is like a portable awards ceremony!
2. Halo 2
Halo: Combat Evolved might have been the game that changed shooting titles forever, but Halo 2 was the one that drove the brand to insane heights. It brought about books, clothes, lunch boxes, costumes, and tonnes of other merchandise that helped to sell this incredible title. Halo 2 was more than just a game; it was an XBOX institution. This sequel sees upgraded weapons, maps, and new vehicles. XBOX live multiplayer on those incredible maps was something else – it was like Metroid Prime on steroids! Once again, players control the Master Chief as he destroys The Flood while romping around the Halo, which turns out was an ancient weapon all along. Who would have thought it.
Why do I like Halo 2 more than the first offering in the series? It just works; it’s as though the games developers ironed out their technique with the first game and used Halo 2 to really show the world what they were made of. The online multiplayer undoubtedly made XBOX live one of the most popular gaming platforms on the market too, with gamers everywhere rushing to get a piece of the action. It’s the best selling original XBOX game of all time, pushing 8-million units and keeping the accolade of ‘best XBOX live title’ for two years in a row. Super smooth gameplay, BOTW-style maps a decade before the switch even came out, and some of the most memorable bad guys from any game series. It’s a classic, which is why it’s taken the number two spot in our list of the best original XBOX games.
Some of you might think that having Fable at the top of the list is a controversial choice, but not me. I loved this game so freakin’ much and played it over and over again so many times. I know we’ve talked about the morality pathway element in a couple of the previous games, but this was the first game that I ever played where it really seemed to work and was visually apparent as you worked your way through Albion. The fact that you could specialise in certain abilities and that you could choose to be bad or good meant that there were so many different ways to play, giving you tonnes of value for money.
The original Fable, and indeed the entire series, was a cross between the Sims and Black and White, the game where you’re a god to loads of little minions. It had the fighting and adventure elements of Zelda titles mixed in with the force powers of Star Wars and games like Holy Magic Century. The story was compelling, the moves were cool, and customising your character with new and upgraded weaponry and armour added to the overall enjoyment factor. The optional quests kept hardy gamers occupied from beginning till end, and there was always something that I missed every time I replayed it. It’s a worthy contender for the top spot in our list of the best original XBOX games and a truly awesome adventure RPG.