5 games to play first on your new Xbox

Happy holidays, or maybe it’s your birthday — or you simply decided to treat yourself to a brand-new Xbox Series X (or Series S). Now what? Sure, you could peruse Polygon’s list of the 22 best Xbox games, or the 25 best games on Xbox Game Pass. But you don’t have time for that! You’re probably reading this on your phone right now while your new Xbox whirs merrily away installing all of its fancy-new-console updates. The clock is ticking, and I’ve got you.

Here’s what you should install first on your new Xbox.

Two particle-based angelic creatures dance on the side of a Tetris Effect level. Image: Enhance Experience

Originally released under the title Tetris Effect in 2018 and later updated into Tetris Effect: Connected in 2020, this gorgeous and mind-melting Tetris experience has a lot more going on than just, well, Tetris. (That said, regular degular Tetris is one of the absolute greatest games ever made, period, so there is that.) Eye-popping visuals and the pulse-pounding music accompaniment will have you feeling like a Tetris super-god, be it in single-player or multiplayer (co-op and competitive modes are available, both online and locally, for 2-4 players). High-quality headphones are highly recommended to fully immerse yourself in the vibes.

A red car races down a paved road in Forza Horizon 4 Image: Playground Games/Microsoft Studios via Polygon

There’s a reason that racing games are often held up as showcases of what new consoles can do, and Forza Horizon 5 fits that bill perfectly, offering truly stunning drive-by vistas. Mexico is the setting for this one, which means there’s a huge diversity in climes — from beaches to jungles to swamplands — not to mention very realistic-looking weather simulation. You don’t even have to be that good of a driver to appreciate this one.

The Arbiter and Master Chief stand back-to-back, weapons in hand, in this screenshot from Halo 3 Image: Bungie/Microsoft Game Studios

This collection of Halo games includes a lot of games, and many of them are old, so they aren’t exactly going to show off the power of your brand-new console in the same way as Tetris Effect: Connected or Forza Horizon 5. But if this is your first time owning an Xbox console, you’ve simply gotta check out one of the most influential game series to date. If you’re really not sure where to start and you don’t want to go back in time too far, go with Halo 3 (2007) and see how it feels.

An astronaut sites next to a fire in Outer Wilds Image: Mobius/Annapurna Interactive

This game doesn’t have any weapons; it’s all about exploration and uncovering the mysteries of an ancient civilization. But even though it may not require the swift reaction times of the previous games on this list, Outer Wilds might be the most challenging game of the bunch, because it’ll really put your brain to the test. As you explore each of the planets in a relatively small but carefully crafted solar system, you’ll have to think laterally and allow your mind to be slowly blown as each of the pieces falls into place. Like I said, it’ll be hard — but in the end, you’ll find it to be one of the greatest stories you’ve ever experienced.

Assassin’s Creed Origins - Bayek and Aya embracing Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

I could be telling you to install Assassin’s Creed Origins, which is the best Assassin’s Creed game, but at this point, I’m gonna stop messing around and start getting real. If you’ve played the other games on this list and you want to know what to install next on your Xbox, the answer is Xbox Game Pass (and Assassin’s Creed Origins). Or you could save yourself some cash and get Game Pass first, because Forza Horizon 5 is on there, along with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Tetris Effect: Connected and Outer Wilds used to be on there, too, but they aren’t anymore — still, that’s evidence that almost every amazing Xbox game will get its time in the Game Pass rotation, making the service a very worthy investment.