The Best Games on Xbox Game Pass
I’ve long said, along with countless others, that Xbox Game Pass is the best deal in gaming. Microsoft and big box retailers frequently run promotions on subscriptions, and I’ve personally never paid more than $100 for a year of Game Pass Ultimate, which includes both PC and Xbox games in addition to an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Playing through two brand new games per year is enough to make the subscription worth it. There are hundreds of games on the service though, and while finding the newest game is easy enough, it’s also easy to miss some gems in the collection. The best games on the service vary from the big blockbusters to the indies, so we’ve put together a list of the must plays below.
Forza Horizon 4
The Forza series is Microsoft’s excellent racing sim and the Horizon games are their open world variant. If you have a shiny new Series X, this is one of the premiere games to show off what next gen graphics should look like. The weather effects highlight the English countryside through four different seasons and create an awe-inspiring ride where the gameplay looks as good as any cutscene in other games. It’s not just pretty though, it’s a blast to play and wildly customizable. Even if you’re not big on racers, it’s fun to simply explore the massive map, finding hidden objectives and taking in the scenery with the massive variety of vehicles. Driving assists make the game as easy or as difficult as you’d like it to be and the ‘drivatar’ system pits you against competitors that adopt your friends’ racing style. This game is an all around win for the casual gamer and enthusiast alike.
Hollow Knight has been compared to games in the Souls series due to its difficulty, post-death recovery system, and the mastery of its fundamentals that allow you to ‘git gud’ as you play. A gorgeously drawn 2D metroidvania, Hollow Knight will test your mettle, but never feels unfair. The controls of the game are picture perfect. Learning enemy movements and being able to react on the fly will allow gamers with the patience to defeat enemies untouched that would have wiped them previously. A variety of charms allow you to bend the gameplay to suit your style without ever being game breaking. The adventure is quite difficult to complete and even more difficult to finish all of its optional content. For veteran gamers, this is the type of game that will evoke a sense of flow as they cut through a huge variety of enemies, environments, and secrets hidden across the massive map. It’s a long game that has a deep world and lore, and will engross anyone looking for a challenging platformer for dozens of hours.
It’s hard to talk about Outer Wilds without giving too much away. It’s probably my favorite game that I may never play again, and certainly one I may have missed if not for Game Pass. You can complete the game in about 20 minutes, but you won’t. Outer Wilds takes place in a time loop, similar to a movie like Edge of Tomorrow. Each time you go through the loop you’ll learn a bit more, or you won’t, it’s up to you. There are no upgrades, guns, or anything else you’ll unlock along the way. The only thing that’s persistent across each loop is your spaceship’s log, but it’s just a point of reference, you’re on your own every time. There are deep mysteries to solve, different experiences in exploring the same area at different times in the loop, and a sense of accomplishment that reminds me a lot of solving a puzzle in Portal. Outer Wilds isn’t comparable to any other game I’ve ever played and is a must play.
In my opinion, Control takes everything that was great about Alan Wake and improves on it. You explore the equivalent of the FBI that would feel right at home in the X-Files. Full of paranormal activity, powerups that simultaneously make you feel godlike, but are grounded in the world, and surprising, awe inspiring moments, Control is a delight from start to finish. A variety of guns and powers allow for different playstyles to be viable (although the early-unlocked ability Launch, which allows you to throw items from around the room at your enemies will always be a staple), letting you experiment, keeping the combat fresh. There’s a massive amount of lore scattered throughout documents, audio, and video that you’ll actually want to experience, which feels like a rarity these days. The physics are fun, the destructible environments are impressive and surprising, and the secrets are enticing, all leading to one of the best action/shooter/RPGs of the generation.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
This is the only game on the list that seems to overlap with another entry as it’s a 2d metroidvania game like Hollow Knight is. There’s a bit more direction in terms of pushing the player to where they ‘need’ to go next, but the second Ori game still lets you explore on your own plenty. Like Hollow Knight, it has perfect controls and allows you to tackle challenges in different ways using the abilities you’ll unlock. The game features stunning visuals, particularly on the newest consoles, and a heartfelt story that reminded many reviewers of a Pixar film (personally, I wouldn’t expect quite that type of depth from the story, but it’s still strong). While Ori has some tough enemies and boss fights along the way, it’s focused more keenly on the platforming than the combat. Even some of the boss fights end up as more of a cinematic platforming challenge than a fistfight. While a difficult game, Ori has a calming feel to it, making great use of vertical space as you explore one of the most colorful games on Xbox.
If asked to describe Minecraft to someone who doesn’t know what it is, the default is to call it digital Lego. Infinite procedurally generated worlds allow players to destroy blocks and craft them into new items or place them how they please throughout the world. It sounds simple, but this has led to stunning recreations of famous buildings and cities, detailed replicas of other games, and new creations altogether. Minecraft is as deep as you want it to be, with players creating incredibly complex in-game machines using the versatile redstone, essentially allowing you to create physical binary code to power creations built from scratch. We’ve seen calculators, 3D printers, and even Doom running within the game. If you’re more of an adventurer, Minecraft has objectives and boss fights to contend with, and has been adding new blocks, biomes, and mobs for years…and will continue to do so. There are servers to play with friends, and a plethora of game modes and inventive ways that people have modified the original game into more than it ever has been in the past.
Tetris Effect: Connected
If you’re reading this list, you know the basics of Tetris. It’s come in many forms over the years with odd modifiers like creating big gold and silver blocks, but for the most part, Tetris Effect: Connected is meat and potatoes Tetris, at least on the single player side. Tetris isn’t usually a game where you consider your sound system, but for this version, it really makes quite a difference. Each time you move or spin a piece, a layered part of the track reacts, making the music match your gameplay. With big bass and beautiful visuals to match the music, each level you play is an immersive experience in a game already prone to sticking in your brain. Multiplayer lets the gameplay build before combining everyone’s board into one single level, stretching across the entirety of the screen. It’s the most polished version of Tetris available, and a crowd pleaser even for those not playing.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
It’s Halo. It’s actually four Halos, giving you tons of gameplay and nostalgia in one package. Whether it’s to relive the glory days of the original Xbox, experience some of the best regarded deathmatches around, or as a tune up for Halo: Infinite, the Master Chief Collection has you covered. After a rocky start, it’s the best way to play these games, which now run in 4K at 120 frames per second. The addition of the game to the Game Pass library has made multiplayer completely viable thanks to how many people can play for ‘free.’ This allows for more competitive and fair matchmaking and a community that should only be ramping up as we wait for the next game in the series.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
It was a difficult call deciding between Skyrim and The Witcher for this list as I personally enjoy the gameplay (albeit basic and often buggy) of Skyrim a bit more. The Witcher truly excels though, in its roleplaying sensibilities. It’s a game where sidequests are engaging and varied. It’s a beautiful and massive game that can eat up triple digits in terms of the number of hours it will take you to finish. There’s huge variety in terms of how you can shape your character in combat through skill trees and is a shining example of what CD Projekt Red can do extremely well if you’re frustrated with how Cyberpunk 2077 turned out.
The game I waffled on the most, perhaps because it doesn’t have the same notoriety as the rest of the list, is Spiritfarer. There are no enemies to kill and no rush to get anything done. It’s a sim, platformer, and delightful RPG all wrapped up into one package. You’ll navigate a ship across brightly colored landscapes, picking up passengers, completing tasks for them, and eventually ferrying them to their passage into the afterlife. The palliative care narrative is surprisingly touching, with fantastic music that draws out your emotion. As you progress you’ll grow crops on your ship, tend to animals, saw wood, and more as you upgrade both your vessel and abilities. There are recipes to cook, sidequests to complete, and mysteries to uncover that can almost make it feel like you’re playing a floating Stardew Valley, with sidescrolling platforming instead of slower, top-down traversal. The adventure doesn’t feel padded, but still leaves you with plenty to do in the relaxing and introspective journey.
That’s the list for now, but the great thing about Game Pass is that new games, most notably Microsoft first party games, are always being added to the collection so it shouldn’t be long before we’re looking at some that are even better than those mentioned above.