Microsoft’s first home video game console, the hefty rectangle known as the Xbox, recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary. In honor of this lofty milestone, we recently modded an original Xbox with tons of modern bells and whistles, such as HDMI support, a sizable SSD, and more. While we had a blast celebrating the Xbox hardware with our monumental system mod, we thought it best to highlight the fantastic games that helped this home console stick in a highly competitive market. From iconic franchise beginnings to underrated cult classics, the original Xbox had a diverse library of imaginative and addictive games.
"To keep things fair, we've limited our picks to one entry per franchise, while doing our best to highlight console exclusives over multi-platform releases."
While it was no easy task, we whipped up a list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time, showcasing our favorite games from one of the most memorable consoles around. To keep things fair, we’ve limited our picks to one entry per franchise, while doing our best to highlight console exclusives over multi-platform releases. It was incredibly tough to make the cuts for this list, so if you don’t see your favorite, don’t feel too bad. With that said, here are our picks for the top 10 original Xbox games of all time, listed in no particular order.
The Top 10 Original Xbox Games of All Time
1. Halo 2
Let’s just get this one out of the way, as no list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time would be complete without an entry in the Halo franchise. While there’s no denying the influence of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, we had to give this spot on our list to the second game in the franchise, Halo 2, which was originally released in 2004 and developed by Bungie. Halo 2 took everything we loved about the first game and made it all better, introducing new guns, vehicles, and cooperative multiplayer support for the campaign. However, it was the game’s online multiplayer that really won audiences over, leading Xbox Live toward its eventual dominance over the online gaming space. Overall, Halo 2 was a big factor in the success of the original Xbox and it helped lay the groundwork for other FPS games to follow, especially in the blossoming world of online multiplayer.
Like Halo, Fable is a game series that is synonymous with Xbox, as this third-person fantasy RPG was immersive, addictive, and featured some groundbreaking concepts. The game was originally released in 2004 and developed by Lionhead Studios, envisioned as a wildly reactive adventure that would change as players made important decisions throughout the story. While some of its more ambitious ideas were ultimately cut from the game, Fable still blew our minds with rich gameplay, an intriguing morality system, and a whimsical story filled with magic and adventure. Given the freedom to play as both a selfless hero or a devious villain, it was easy to play through Fable multiple times, discovering new stories and quests along the way. Not only was Fable fun to play, but it rewarded players for experimenting with different play styles and choices, which has long since become a staple of the genre.
3. Ninja Gaiden Black
While Ninja Gaiden has been around since the 8-bit days of retro gaming, it wasn’t until the 2004 reboot developed by Team Ninja came out that the series regained its status as an iconic action franchise. In 2005, an upgraded and enhanced version of the game called Ninja Gaiden Black was released, adding even more content to an already amazing game. Controlling the deft and deadly ninja Ryu Hayabusa, players dashed and slashed their way through a challenging gauntlet of action set pieces. Before the age of Dark Souls, Ninja Gaiden was easily considered one of the hardest games around, and Ninja Gaiden Black offered an even greater challenge with its new Master Ninja difficulty mode. Luckily, it also included a new easy mode as well, so less-skilled players could also enjoy the tale of Ryu’s revenge. This, along with a slew of gameplay enhancements, made Ninja Gaiden Black one of the best action games ever and a shoo-in for our list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.
4. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Nowadays, it’s hard to talk about open-world RPGs without The Elder Scrolls being brought up. While this series used to be confined to the PC platform, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind finally brought the fantasy franchise to home consoles when it was released in 2002. This first-person RPG offered previously unseen levels of freedom, placing players in a magical world and letting them roam around to their heart’s content. You were free to take on quests, battle monsters, and explore wherever you wanted, however you wanted. There’s so much detail to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that it’s easy to spend an entire session just wandering around, checking out buildings and looking for loot. It’s a good thing that Morrowind was so successful, as the RPG genre would not be the same without The Elder Scrolls.
5. Project Gotham Racing 2
Project Gotham Racing 2 was released in 2003 and was a dream for any car enthusiast or racing game fan. With its unique blend of realistic racing and skill-based progression, this sequel was the go-to racer on the original Xbox. The selection of gameplay modes was light, but it didn’t matter, because the controls were butter-smooth and the racing had never felt more intense. Between the main World Series mode, arcade challenges, and competitive online multiplayer via Xbox Live, Project Gotham Racing 2 offered just enough variety to keep us playing. Plus, with over 100 cars to unlock, gaining a full garage was a satisfying and rewarding brag to boast. Project Gotham Racing 2 also featured the twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars as a fun diversion, but it was so addictive, it would eventually blossom into a standalone game. Great racing games are few and far between, so Project Gotham Racing 2 certainly deserves a shout-out on our list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.
While the original Xbox had plenty of console-selling hits, one of the most underrated games in its library has also become one of its most fondly remembered. Psychonauts is a psychedelic 3D platforming adventure about a telepathic child who leaves his life at the circus to sneak into a summer camp for psychic children. Developed by the indie darling studio Double Fine and released in 2005, Psychonauts was one of the last big exclusive titles for the original Xbox before the release of the Xbox 360. Although the game failed to reach sales expectations, it has since found renewed acclaim, thanks to a recent PC port and the release of the long-awaited sequel. While it’s not a perfect game by any metric, Psychonauts is immensely heartwarming and fun to play, and we can’t help but include it on our list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.
7. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
In more ways than one, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell redefined the stealth genre when it was released in 2002. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, this third-person adventure told the story of Sam Fisher, a new agent in the shadowy Third Echelon division of the NSA. Using his arsenal of stealth gadgets, including a set of night-vision goggles that would become iconic, Sam must sneak through restricted areas full of alert guards and obstacles. The game made major breakthroughs in how light sources played into stealth, rewarding players who stuck to the shadows, shooting out light bulbs and keeping their kill count low. Successfully making it through a mission of Splinter Cell felt like a well-earned achievement, as only the most tactical and strategic players would survive. It was popular enough to see five sequels throughout subsequent console generations, and with the impact it had on the stealth genre, it would be a shame not to include Splinter Cell as one of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.
8. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Developed by BioWare, who would later go on to develop games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was an absolute treat for both RPG and Star Wars fans alike. Set thousands of years before the classic Star Wars films, the game spins an original tale of chaos in the cosmos as the Sith Lord Darth Malak attempts to dominate the galaxy. Playing as a customizable Jedi who can lean toward the Light or Dark side of the force, you can carve your own path through Star Wars history as you explore various planets and learn new powers. While the gameplay is good enough on its own, it’s the stellar voice-acting and storytelling that helped Knights of the Old Republic gain its reputation. In the pantheon of Star Wars video games, Knights of the Old Republic is considered one of, if not the best, so it only makes sense for it to pop up on our list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.
9. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
Like Psychonauts, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is another underrated game that graced the original Xbox with interesting concepts and engrossing gameplay, but failed to make an impact in sales. While there were plenty of first-person shooters on the original Xbox, there were none as unique as Stranger’s Wrath. Playing as a mysterious bounty hunter simply named Stranger, the game tasks you with hunting down various outlaws, dead or alive, and turning them in for cash. The game also includes third-person platforming sections, as well as a crossbow that uses live critter ammunition. Each type of ammunition performs a unique action, providing tons of different ways to take on bounties. Stranger’s Wrath was first released in 2005, and over 15 years later, we’ve yet to see an FPS with a more inventive game design.
10. Fusion Frenzy
Although Nintendo consoles have earned a reputation for their party games, the original Xbox had a fun, mini-game filled multiplayer title for gamers to enjoy too, Fusion Frenzy. Featuring only two modes, Tournament or Mini-Game Frenzy, and 45 mini-games to play, there was something sweetly simple about Fusion Frenzy‘s design. While it lacked online multiplayer, the four-player local option still provided sufficient split-screen mayhem, making Fusion Frenzy a rotation for any gaming session with friends. While it might not have the recognition of Mario Party, Fusion Frenzy was a leisurely party game that deserves to fill the final spot on our list of the top 10 original Xbox games of all time.