The original Xbox was punching well above its weight class back in the day. Sure, it didn’t sell nearly as many consoles as Sony did with the PS2, but Microsoft created one helluva foundation for the future, especially with its online gaming with Xbox Live. It started a legacy that many think back on with nothing but love, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and check out some of the best original Xbox games, shall we?
10. Halo 1 & Halo 2
If there’s one game that’s synonymous with the original Xbox, it’s Halo, and for good reason. For starters, Halo: Combat Evolved launched alongside the console. Secondly, it revolutionized first-person shooters in such a way, you can still see its influence on franchises like Call of Duty.
Halo wasn’t content with offering an excellent multiplayer experience. It also had a killer campaign that had you running around as Master Chief, a super soldier with deadly combat skills that made him into a one-man army. The Covenant never stood a chance!
How do you beat such a strong introduction? Why, with an equally strong sequel. Halo 2 expanded on everything, from worldbuilding to online multiplayer. You even had the chance to play as the Arbiter, giving you a deeper understanding of the Covenant’s morals and caste system.
9. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Before Skyrim, before Oblivion, there was Morrowind. The island of Vvardenfell is rich with fauna so unlike Cyrodiil and Skyrim, it feels like a completely different planet. Out of what I like to call “the Big Three,” I come back to Morrowind far more often than I do the other entries, despite its old school aspects.
Compared to Skyrim and Oblivion, it’s refreshing to play an RPG that actually makes you feel like you have weaknesses. That may sound terrifying, but it’s so much easier to immerse myself into a character when I know I can’t just pick up a two-handed weapon and expect to cleave through my enemies with ease.
Speaking of immersion, Morrowind is a master class in writing and worldbuilding, including the dialogue. It’s a bit wordy in some places, but if you love reading, it won’t be a problem at all. In fact, you can learn a lot about the world just by striking up a conversation with random citizens. It’s there where you’ll also discover much of the political intrigue of Vvardenfell, such as the various royal houses and a prophecy you may or may not be involved in.
8. Star Wars: Battlefront II
Halo wasn’t the only game that provided endless hours of fun with friends. Star Wars: Battlefront II did it, too, but on a much bigger stage. It focused on large-scale warfare rather than pitting small teams against one another.
A lot of the fun came from the diverse set of units you could play, from basic to specialized to vehicles, like run-of-the-mill infantry to a pilot that was doubly effective at destroying ships from within using time bombs. And then there were the heroes and villains, such as Yoda, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Asajj Ventress, and Darth Vader. They were expensive units, but had a great deal of health and damage.
If that wasn’t enough, Star Wars: Battlefront II featured a pretty lengthy set of game modes, too. You had capture-the-flag and conquest, but there was also Assault, Hunt, and even a campaign that took you through the events of the Clone Wars and into the Galactic Civil War. My personal favorite is Galactic Conquest, where you’re tasked with conquering as many planets as possible!
7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Very few games tackled time travel like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did, and even fewer were a perfect storm of complementary gameplay mechanics and a tight story.
Being able to rewind time wasn’t just a neat trick, but could be both offensively and defensively. It gave you the tools to prove your enemy’s weakness and even prevent your death. More importantly, it was an invaluable tool in solving puzzles.
Price of Persia’s combat was solid, but nothing was more impressive than its platforming, which combined perfectly with the Prince’s excellent parkour skills. You’ll be wall running and swinging from bars as you explore the beautiful Persian architecture.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Back to the 90s we go, to the LA-inspited Los Santos, where so many memes were born. While Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas also found a home on the PS2, being on the original Xbox meant GTA fans wouldn’t miss out on it.
And how lucky we were because GTA: San Andreas had a great story and compelling characters. Though the game could definitely be wacky, almost cartoon-like at times, seeing how the various gangs interacted with one another was surprisingly down-to-earth and fascinating. Carl and his friends are thick-as-thieves, brothers in arms, which only makes the twists later on feel that much more impactful.
What was particularly good about San Andreas was that it went beyond being a sandbox and into the realm of an RPG-lite. Carl had a variety of skills you could improve, like stamina, muscle, sex appeal, fat (yes, he could get large), weapon skill, and more. Respect was a major stat too, due to its relationship with gangs. It all worked together to make you feel like a gang leader.
Fable was something truly special to me, being one of the few RPGs that I discovered on my own. I spent many hours trying to figure out solutions to Demon Doors, finding secrets, and being a menace to society. I’m more than thrilled to know Fable is making a return!
Part of what made Fable so damn charming were the choices. I could be a goody little two-shoes with a halo or be so evil that I went bald and sprouted horns. Do I want villagers vying for my attention or have them cower in fear? Either way, my name was going to be known all across Albion: the one and only Chicken Chaser.
Between eating baby chicks (and grossing out everyone) and NPC interactions, Fable is surprisingly funny, too. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek dialogue, especially with the Demon Doors, and you’ll get plenty of joy out of the emotes from burping to giving the finger.
4. Metal Gear Solid 2
If you didn’t hop onto the Metal Gear Solid train until Snake Eater, you’re missing out on a story rich with philosophy, political intrigue, and conspiracy. Very few games exemplified espionage and stealth quite like Metal Gear Solid 2.
Everything worked so well together—the environment, the AI, the available skills. The mechanics in play gave a great deal of importance to sneaking. The guards didn’t screw around, either; if you tried to rush around, creating all sorts of havoc, your enemies didn’t hesitate over calling for backup.
Though Metal Gear Solid 2, for the most part, focused on Raiden, a new character, it was still a blast uncovering the details about the Sons of Liberty, a new Metal Gear. It also has a pretty bizarre twist ending that only Kojima could come up with.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2
You didn’t need a gaming PC to experience two of the greatest RPGs of all time—you just needed the original Xbox. Bioware developed something truly magical with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, mixing great storytelling, characters, choices, and a D20 system.
Set thousands of years before the Galactic Empire rose to power, KOTOR was given a lot of wiggle room in terms of story, but the various planets still felt both new and familiar. On top of that, you got to experience these with companions, each of which brought their own flavor to the party like the sassy HK-47 and the somewhat naive Mission Vao.
Then Obsidian Entertainment—you know, the minds behind Outer Worlds and Fallout: New Vegas—followed up with a sequel that further improved on every system. There were more Force powers to master, new companions, and equally masterful storytelling to boot.
While Psychonauts is usually thought of as a financial failure, for those of you who’ve picked it up back in the day, it’s anything but. It’s arguably one of the funniest, most well-written and unique platformers to date. The genius is in the art style, the characters, and the twisted visuals that you, as Raz, experience as a psychic.
Whenever you dive into someone’s mind, you truly get a sense of what kind of person they are and even come across some incredibly dark themes. Take Milla, for example, whose mind is just as whimsical and bubbly as her outward appearance, but deep inside she hides a painful memory involving the deaths of orphans that were once in her care.
This is on top of Raz’s fun psychic powers, which only grow and expand throughout the game. True to its name, you’ll be using every skill in your kit to solve imaginative and mind-bending puzzles. There’s nothing quite like Psychonauts, that’s for sure—well, except Psychonauts 2.
1. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
If you ever fantasized about being a sneaky secret operative, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was a dream-come-true. Sure, it was grounded more in reality than, say, Metal Gear Solid, but its stealth gameplay was just as deep, if not more so.
Sam Fisher (voiced by the talented Michael Ironside) had a wide variety of gadgets and weapons at his disposal, like a lock pick, an optic cable for seeing under doors, grenades, mines, his iconic night-vision goggles, and more. You had to use everything you could to your advantage in order to complete your mission.
One of the most important aspects of Splinter Cell was its lighting, which was rather dynamic for its time and still holds up today. Stealth mechanics relied heavily on light, so you had to make like Batman and stick to the shadows. If you couldn’t find light switches, the next best thing was whipping out your silenced pistol and taking aim at the nearest lamp.