Out with the old and in with the new has never been so bittersweet. Those of us who have been lucky enough to own an Xbox 360 these past ten years know that, unfortunately, the time has come for the next generation of consoles to take over. Even as I type, some fancy company is working on a great, new, shiny game that’s going to drive home even more how obsolete Microsoft’s old fellow has become. That’s why this list is dedicated to getting you, whoever you may be, to give a couple of Xbox 360 games a try before the console goes completely extinct. And if you’ve already played these games, great! Maybe reading this will make you want to go replay them, and you definitely should. The games I’m about to list are all critically acclaimed and guaranteed to make a long weekend vanish faster than a trip to the beach ever would.
#5. Mass Effect (the whole series)
I’ve probably upset a few people already for putting this one at the bottom of the list, so here’s a disclaimer: If I didn’t think Mass Effect was a fantastic game, it wouldn’t be on this list at all. With that out of the way, let’s dive right into this beloved, awe-inspiring, only-slightly-controversial space odyssey.
Mass Effect is a role-playing third-person shooter where the player takes control of a completely customizable officer of the space-navy, Commander Shepard. Male or female, purebred soldier or superhuman biotic (which is more or less space-magic/telekinesis), Shepard is known across the galaxy and the Internet as a stone-cold badass. As Shepard, the player must travel to all corners of the Milky Way to stop a dangerous rogue who stands to unleash the greatest threat the galaxy has ever faced. Along the way, Shepard recruits humans and aliens to help in their insurmountable task.
If you keep anything in mind while playing through these games, let it be this: every choice you make will matter. It’s up to the player alone to mind their actions because the game is very careful to make their choices matter. Some of Shepard’s crew members may not even live between games because of decisions the player has made. And because players can import the same Shepard from the first game to the last, every choice follows them to the very end.
Or you can ignore all of that and just shoot whatever happens to be in your way. It’s up to you!
If playing as a character who may or may not be Space Jesus isn’t your cup of tea, you may want to give this one a try.
In Dishonored, the player is Corvo Attano, who at one point was the loyal bodyguard to the empress of the steampunk-inspired, London-esque city of Dunwall. However, after witnessing and being framed for her murder (that’s not a spoiler, it happens before the title card even appears), Corvo must don the terrifying mask that’s been staring at you while you read this, and team up with a group of empress loyalists to prove his innocence all while exacting revenge on the people who framed him. But before any of that can happen, Corvo attracts the attention of a godlike being called The Outsider, who gifts him the mark on his hand and grants him access to an arsenal of supernatural powers that will help the player carve out the best game they can conceive by teleporting across roofs or summoning a swarm of carnivorous plague rats.
Much like Mass Effect, the player’s choices have a very large impact on the rest of the game. Unlike Mass Effect, however, simply shooting your way through everything is a very, very bad idea. Dishonored is a stealth game, which means the player must be creative and patient when they’re crawling around dark tunnels and guard-infested streets. Sticking to a stealthy, nonlethal approach will lead to a less chaotic city—less plague claiming the innocent citizens of Dunwall and fewer guards will stand in your way. However, the more people Corvo kills, the more chaos he kicks up, and both decisions lead to vastly different endings to the game.
But why are you still letting me tell you how to play? Go pick up a copy of the game and find out for yourself!
Since I feel like a lot of those who got offended at Mass Effect being #5 would also get offended at this one not being #1, I’ll repeat what I said there: if I didn’t think this game was absolutely incredible, it wouldn’t be on this list to begin with. That said, I did struggle placing this one because it is a damn good game.
BioShock is a first-person shooter where, after one of the best openings to a video game ever, the player finds themselves stranded on an island with a lighthouse, where the only way out is to go down below the waves and survive running through the city of Rapture—for reference, imagine New York City in the 1950s and then put it underwater. Trapped in the fallen utopia, you must fight through hordes of the grossly mutated citizens of Rapture (called “Splicers” after all the genetic splicing that made them so grossly mutated) to escape the city and maybe discover something about yourself on the way out.
Oh, did I mention that you can light things on fire with your mind?
Like Dishonored, the player controls a variety of weapons with one hand and a bevy of otherworldly powers with the other—setting things ablaze or electrocuting Splicers standing in a pool of water are just two examples. Also like Dishonored, you will face some moral choices—namely the ones with these darling little creatures called “Little Sisters”—that affect the ending of the game. Besides that, gameplay is fairly simple: kill the dangerous things before they kill you and collect as many awesome power-ups as you can along the way.
#2. Dragon Age: Origins
If Mass Effect is a space odyssey, then Dragon Age: Origins is its Lord of the Rings-style counterpart.
A lengthy and lore-steeped role-playing game, the player creates their unwitting hero (or heroine) of the story, who most in-game characters will just call “The Grey Warden” no matter what. If you’re like most players, you will probably be spending twenty minutes to an hour just fiddling with the character creator, where you can pick their race, combat specializations, and model their entire head in a hundred different ways. If you manage to get past the character creator, and I sincerely hope you do, you will be thrust into a fantastic epic where you and your Warden must recruit a close circle of companions and unite the country against an invasion from a race of underground monsters known as Darkspawn.
Gameplay is highly varied from the different character races and classes the player can choose (human, elf, or dwarf; mage, warrior, or rogue) and strategy plays a modest yet valuable part in this game.
Honestly, there’s so much story and adventure to be had that I don’t actually have enough room to summarize it. Play it for yourself and see what you’re missing!
And the #1 Xbox 360 game to play is…
#1. Borderlands 2
This game was one I had only picked up this year, but it clawed its way all the way to my top games of all time. An insane, fast-paced, stylishly creative first-person shooter, Borderlands 2 may be a sequel, but I can attest that new players don’t even need to play the first game because everything you need to know about it is summarized perfectly in the very first minute. Unlike the other games on this list, a game of Borderlands 2 can be played alone or with up to three other players. Whichever you decide, you choose from one of four character classes of Vault Hunters and embark on one of the most entertaining adventures ever. You arrive on the planet Pandora intent on finding the Vault and reaping its treasures for yourself, but before the game even begins, Handsome Jack, the most charismatic yet polarizing villain ever, tries to kill you.
How does he do that? He lures you onto a train, welcomes you warmly to Pandora…and then blows up the train over an arctic wasteland. You learn pretty instantly that you are one of many Vault Hunters he’s drawn in, but you are the only one to have survived. From there, you journey out to join a resistance fighting hard against Handsome Jack’s grip on the planet.
The class you pick at the beginning has just one ability, but it can be leveled up to improve its effectiveness, improve your character’s health or shield strength, or even increase the damage you do with specific types of guns. There is so much story, humor, and thought put into this game that I cannot recommend it strongly enough, and if you pick just one game from this list to play, this is it.