The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass

Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Illustration: Jim Cooke

Xbox Game Pass is one of the best deals in gaming today. For $10 a month, you get access to a Netflix-style library of video games that you can download and play whenever you want. Some marquee games hit the service the same day they’re released, as with The Outer Worlds. In other words, it’s no surprise that the subscription base has doubled over the past year.

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But as good a deal as Game Pass is, it can also be seriously overwhelming. On console, you’ll find more than 100 titles at your fingertips. (Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is slightly more expensive and offers access to titles on PC, too, though we’re just focusing on console for this list.) Seeing as games are bigger now than ever—and that the standard Xbox One comes with just 500GB of storage—you can reasonably only have a handful of Game Pass titles on your console at any given time. So, where should you start?

Below, you’ll find a rundown of the best games currently on Xbox Game Pass. Since the Game Pass PC app is technically still in beta, we’re limiting the list to games that are available on console. (Gris, for instance, is a beautifully haunting museum-worthy piece of art that everyone should experience. At the moment, it’s only available on the PC Game Pass. Sorry, console players!) Games are also periodically added to Game Pass—and periodically leave, too. We will continue to update this list as availability shifts.

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Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Deck 13

CrossCode

To call CrossCode simply an action role-playing game dismisses its greatest parts. Yes, it has many of the trappings of an action RPG. You gain experience, level up skill trees, and traverse a vast world alongside a party of colorful personalities. Combat happens in real time. But it’s also a platformer (kinda). And a puzzle game (definitely). And an MMO (well, narratively). CrossCode is set inside a fictional MMORPG called CrossWorlds. You play as Lea, a CrossWorlds avatar who’s lost her voice and, because this is a video game, her memories. Lea is a Spheromancer class, which, in CrossCode’s CrossWorlds lore, is quite rare. In practice, it means you can fire off balls of energy and also smack enemies with a sword, much like you’re playing an old-school Zelda game. CrossCode is done up in beautiful pixel art and scored with a soundtrack that would make the composers of the SNES era proud.

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A Good Match For: Those who love games of a prior era, or well-crafted homages to games of a prior era.

Not A Good Match For: Those who’ve had enough of games of a prior era and their homages, no matter how well-crafted they are.

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Read our PC impressions, and our impressions of the console port.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Platinum Games
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Nier: Automata

Partway through Nier: Automata, a side character offers you a fish. If you eat the fish, you die—game over. For good. Seriously. The credits roll and everything. Yes, Nier: Automata is a genuinely strange game. There are 26 possible endings, one for each letter of the alphabet. Though you can power through the main story in 10 hours or so, it’s designed to be played multiple times. (Pro tip: Juggle multiple save files. And save often!) Make the wrong move, however, and you might end up wiping all of your save data. That may all sound daunting, but this gem really is worth playing again and again and again. To call this game a third-person action-RPG wouldn’t do it justice. Sure, one-minute, you may be engaged in a traditional third-person beat-’em-up. The next, you might find yourself in a side-scroller. And then, 45 seconds after that, you could be in a top-down Galaga-style shooter. It’s an endlessly creative, always-surprising ride.

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A Good Match For: Players craving something both familiar and different.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who needs a game to make sense.

Read our review.

Check out our interview with the director.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Rockstar
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Red Dead Redemption 2

Do we really need to say it? C’mon, it’s Red Dead Redemption 2! Rockstar’s cowboy-themed action escapade is a high-water mark of gaming—a true tour de force that pushed the medium to the brink in pretty much every area you can think of. A massive open-world rendered in unrivaled fidelity? Check. An Oscar-worthy narrative? Check. Great historical tourism? Fun combat? Gaming’s best clothing options? Check, check, and check-plus. And that’s to say nothing of the wildly entertaining multiplayer mode, Red Dead Online. Set a year before the events of the main game (yes, there’s a story), you can try your hand at missions, shootouts, heists, and player-vs.-player matches, including Gun Rush, a battle royale. If you haven’t played Red Dead Redemption 2 yet, bump it straight to the top of your backlog.

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A Good Match For: Third-person shooter fans who like to get truly lost in their games. Anyone who enjoyed Red Dead Redemption (this one’s a prequel). People who wish the Renaissance Faire was the Wild West Faire.

Not A Good Match For: Folks who can’t quite get with Rockstar’s methodical style of gameplay. Players who prefer their characters wholesome and heroic (Arthur Morgan, the protagonist, isn’t exactly the best guy).

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Obsidian Entertainment
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The Outer Worlds

You’d be forgiven for thinking, at first glance, that The Outer Worlds is Fallout: Space. Yes, there are similarities. Obsidian, the game’s development studio, was also the developer behind Fallout: New Vegas. But there’s enough here to set this first-person role-playing game in a class of its own. For starters, the writing is sharp as a tack, a mix of hilarious one-liners and biting commentary on corporate greed. The core gameplay loop is a blast, too. Missions never feel bloated, and tend to hit the sweet spot between exploration and actual action. Also, did we mention it’s in space? Because it’s in space. (To be specific: The Outer Worlds takes place in Halcyon, a fictional colony wholly owned and operated by parasitic corporations.) Best of all, you can pretty much clear the whole game, most worthwhile side quests included, in under 40 hours. Let’s hear it for games that actually respect our time!

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A Good Match For: Fans of space-based sci-fi. Folks who can’t get enough Fallout. The proletariat.

Not A Good Match For: People who don’t like or have the patience for inventory management. People who’d rather just replay Fallout 4, which is also currently on Game Pass. Corporatists.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Mobius Digital
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Outer Wilds

There isn’t a game on the planet like Outer Wilds. You’re best going in completely blind, but if you must know some stuff, here you go: You explore an unusual planetary system where each planet operates under its own set of odd rules. You won’t fire a single bullet. You won’t engage in a minute of what’s traditionally known as “combat.” You’ll die a lot, but it’ll rarely feel unfair. You won’t earn any experience points, or unlock any skills, gear, or other bits of tangible progression. Each gameplay session lasts up to 22 minutes, at most, if you don’t first meet an untimely demise. You’re armed with nothing but your own knowledge—the knowledge that even the smallest discovery helps you understand the game more, and that, yes, there’s still a whole lot out there for you to discover.

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A Good Match For: Gamers with insatiable curiosity. Tom Cruise fans who wished Edge of Tomorrow was less an action flick and more a soulful meditation on the meaning of existence.

Not A Good Match For: Those who prefer their video games with guns, grenades, or other various violent gadgets. People who can’t deal with a spaceship’s awkward controls.

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Read our review, and many game diaries about how truly one-of-a-kind this gem is

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: The Coalition
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Gears 5

You probably already know what you’re getting with Gears 5: a competent third-person shooter in which you wield a variety of weapons, duck behind cover, shoot bad guys, and laugh at how hilariously yoked every human character is. (Seriously, what the hell is up with COG’s protein powder?) In short, Gears 5 is “more Gears.” But this latest iteration levels up the series formula in pretty much every way. The dialogue is witty. There are open-world sections now, complete with side quests and RPG elements. And putting the player in the shoes of a female protagonist—Kait Diaz, a former Outsider—is a welcome step forward. Plus, the Horde mode, which has been a series staple since 2008’s Gears of War 2, is as solid as ever, and expands on the class system introduced in Gears of War 4.

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A Good Match For: Fans of Gears and other third-person shooters. People who say things like, “Wow, this might be the best-looking game on consoles right now,” because Gears 5 very well might be.

Not A Good Match For: Players who truly can’t stand long load times. The Gears 5 load screens can be excruciating.

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Read our review of the campaign, and our impressions of the multiplayer.

Watch it in action.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Rocksteady Studios
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Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman: Arkham Knight is an excellent game with some potentially off-putting baggage. That makes it the perfect game to dabble with via a service like Xbox Game Pass, rather than just buying it outright. The mid-2015 adventure capped off the series of Batman games made by Rocksteady Studios (plus a spin-off from WB Montreal) by putting players in control of a Batman who must explore the entirety of Gotham City and defend it from a horde of returning and new villains. That was the pitch, though it doesn’t get at one of the game’s best aspects: the scene-stealing performance of Mark Hamill’s Joker, who returns to the Arkham series in an unusual way. Arkham Knight plays out as a big open-world adventure full of goons to fight,puzzles to solve and an ending worth reaching. By this point in the series, Rocksteady was experimenting ambitiously, and the results are mostly terrific, what with some great narrative twists and the introduction of occasional single-player/two-character combat (think: alternating control of Batman and Robin as you use both to beat up the bad guys). The catch? The game introduced the Batmobile, which is used for racing, vehicular combat, and puzzle-based platforming. Not all of that went over so well with some players. Game Passer beware.

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A Good Match For: People who love Batman, love seeing studios iterate on a proven formula, and dig a well-told story.

Not A Good Match For: People who don’t want Bat-tank combat in their Batman game.

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Read our initial review, and our re-review.

Study our tips for playing the game.


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Screenshot: Arkane Studios
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Dishonored 2

Everything players loved about the the first stealth adventure Dishonored—the open-ended mission structure, the not-quite-steampunk setting, the totally unique suite of gadgets and abilities, the Blink power—is present in Dishonored 2. For the sequel, Arkane Studios only built on a rock-solid foundation. First, there’s the setting: Karnaca, a city that’s far more lush than the previous game’s London-esque Dunwall. Then, there’s a new playable character: Emily Kaldwin, Corvo’s daughter, who has her own unique set of supernatural abilities. You can choose to play as Emily or Corvo. If you want a new experience, go with the former. If you want more of the same, go with the latter. Also, Corvo has a voice this time around. He’s voiced by Stephen Russell, who joins a star-studded vocal cast including Pedro Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Sam Rockwell, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

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A Good Match For: Fans of the first Dishonored, or any other first-person games that give you a lot of fun tools and a bunch of playgrounds to use them in.

Not A Good Match For: Players who want a game to hold their hand every step of the way.

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Read our review, and our in-depth look at the game’s time travel mission.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Moon Studios
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Ori and the Will of the Wisps

You’d be forgiven for thinking Ori and the Will of the Wisps would be a breeze to play. The main character looks adorable and the art could have come straight out of a Disney or Studio Ghibli film. It’s also a total tear-jerker—the type of game that can make you well up over a spider that, minutes earlier, tried to wipe you off the face of the planet. But make no mistake: this platformer is the real deal. It will absolutely destroy you, over and over and over again. Good thing the reload is near instantaneous. What’s more, Will of the Wisps adds a few significant quality-of-life improvements over 2015’s already stellar Ori and the Blind Forest (also on Game Pass). For starters, there’s an autosave feature now. There’s also a hub section where a cadre of other cute forest creatures live (and sell you stuff). But the biggest change is in the combat: This time around, Ori has a full arsenal that feels very Legend of Zelda, including a sword, a bow, and, should you choose, a boomerang.

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A Good Match For: Anyone who loves tough precision platformers or cute forest creatures.

Not A Good Match For: Folks who don’t have tissues nearby, since this game has the same fuzzy sadness as a Pixar short.

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Read our review.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Xbox Game Studios
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Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Fun fact: According to Larry Hyrb, the director of programming for Xbox Live, all Xbox One exclusives are permanent fixtures of the Game Pass library. Put another way: If Xbox Game Pass is Netflix, then first-party games are Netflix Originals. Obviously, that includes the Halo games. And there’s no better way to gun down the Covenant and take on the Flood than with Halo: The Master Chief collection, a supersized bundle that includes Halos 1, 2, 3, and 4. (Halo: Reach, the prequel tale, is available as an additional download.) At more than 100GB, it’ll take up a sizable chunk of your harddrive. But if you’re a fan of Master Chief—what Xbox owner isn’t?—it’s well worth it.

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A Good Match For: Fans of Halo, shooting games, or frenetic multiplayer modes. Gamers craving a dose of mid-2000s nostalgia.

Not A Good Match For: The Covenant. The Flood. Fans of Locke, the divisive main character of Halo 5: Guardians.

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Read our initial impressions of the collection, and our review of Halo 4.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: CD Projekt Red
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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Even the most casual gamer will tell you that side quests can often feel like filler. Kill 10 wild boar. Collect 15 herbs. That sort of thing. In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, though, side quests carry as much emotional weight and narrative consequence as the primary story (which itself plays out in various unexpected ways depending on choices you make throughout the game). The result is a 100-hour open world RPG that feels like it couldn’t have been any shorter than 100 hours. Combat’s a blast, too, and the RPG elements are satisfyingly meaty. Best of all, if you’ve never played a previous Witcher game—or have no familiarity with the main character, Geralt of Rivia—you can still easily hop in. The Witcher 3 is a self-contained narrative. If you somehow missed this one, toss a coin to your witcher and download it, already!

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A Good Match For: Bards. Fans of the Netflix adaptation. Players who like to hunt monsters, fight bandits, swing swords, cast spells, drink potions, and get utterly lost in breathtaking vistas.

Not A Good Match For: People with busy schedules.

Read our review of the game, and our thoughts on the Netflix show.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Screenshot: Sega
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Yakuza 0

Yakuza games are a juggling act. One ball is a daytime soap opera. Another ball is a third-person beat-em-up action game. And the third ball can only be described as truly bonkers minutiae. Maybe that means helping a street musician relieve himself. Maybe that means bowling with the goal of winning a turkey. Or maybe that just means singing karaoke. As you wander around Kamurocho—the Yakuza series’ version of Kabukichō, the entertainment district of Shinjuku, Tokyo—you’ll come across all manner of seemingly random mini-games of this ilk. They’re welcome pit stops that break up what the game is ostensibly about: beating up 15,391 dudes at once.

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A Good Match For: Anyone who’s wanted to visit Japan. Tattoo aficionados.

Not A Good Match For: Grand Theft Auto fans; Yakuza games are a different beast.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Games On PS NowThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Nintendo Switch GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android Games

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Update 8/6/2020: Though Life Is Strange 2 is sadly no longer on Game Pass, its departure from our list cleared room for the excellent CrossCode.

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Update 5/14/2020: We’ve given Monster Hunter: World and Forza Horizon 4 (both still excellent, both still on Game Pass) the boot to make room for Red Dead Redemption 2 and Nier: Automata. 

Update 3/24/2020: We’ve added Yakuza 0 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. They knocked out Quantum Break and Sea of Thieves, both of which are still on Xbox Game Pass (and still fantastic). 

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DISCUSSION

tillmandesign
Randy Randerson

I know the format limits these lists to 12 games, but I’m surprised there aren’t more high quality indie games included here. I’ve spent just as much time on AAA titles like DMC5 and Halo:MCC as I have with Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, and other indie gems. Game Pass is also kind of the ideal way to explore smaller games that you wouldn’t be sure you’d like for full price, such as Superhot and Stanley Parable.