The 17 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass

The 17 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass
Illustration: Jim Cooke

Xbox Game Pass is one of the best deals in gaming today. For $15 a month, you get access to a Netflix-style library of video games that you can download and play whenever you want. But there’s an awful lot to play — so here’s the 17 best Xbox Game Pass games right now.

Some ground rules: Don’t expect to see any Microsoft tentpoles here — your Forzas, your Halos, and so on — seeing as, if you have an Xbox you’re probably well aware those games exist and are worth playing. We’re further keeping this list console-only for now. (Members of Xbox Game Pass for PC get access to a similar list that includes most of these games but has some that aren’t available on console.)

Of course, games are also periodically added to Game Pass — and periodically leave, too. We will continue to update this list as availability shifts.

control
Image: Remedy

Control

You won’t get access to the excellent Foundation or AWE expansion packs through Game Pass, but the base Control is still an remarkably outstanding experience. It’s best played on PC or an Xbox Series X, especially if you have access to top-of-the-line hardware and the ray-tracing it enables.

You play as Jesse Faden, someone who has been searching for the paranormal Bureau ever since they were a child. Upon walking into their front doors, you quickly enter a world heavily inspired by Alan Wakecreepypastas, and David Lynch. It helps that Control‘s also backed by some of the best core gameplay Remedy has designed since Max Payne: floating in the air and Force Throwing office furniture around at will never gets old. An absolute masterpiece, and one all Remedy fans should play.

Recommended For: Fans of first-person shooters, David Lynch, games with Force powers (or something akin to Force powers).

Not Recommended For: Those who prefer more straightforward narratives, those who hate any semblance of horror.

Read our review.

Read our tips for playing the game.

xbox game pass
Image: Mimimi Games

Desperados 3

It’s been a good time for fans of stealth tactics, and Desperadoes 3 is perhaps the best the genre has to offer right now. It’s no surprise really: the same studio made the superb Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, and Desperados 3 is those raw mechanics and ideas on a grander scale, with more humour, more enemies to mess with, and the Wild West. What’s not to love?

Recommended For: Fans of the Commandos series, fans of stealth games or real-time tactics, people who love setting elaborate plans.

Not Recommended For: Impatient gamers. Those looking for more turn-based strategical affairs.

Read our review, and watch some gameplay.

xbox game pass
Image: Motion Twin

Dead Cells

Dead Cells does the one thing every roguelike should do—make you feel like a constantly evolving badass—and does it expertly. Your first run might last four minutes, if you’re lucky. Sink a couple hours into the game, and your runs could easily last an hour. After every run, which folds out as a high-velocity side-scrolling jaunt through multiple monster-infested biomes, you’ll unlock new weapons and abilities. Those then cycle into the random drops you’ll receive at the start and in shops, making it so no two runs are alike (well, unless you use the game’s deep customization options).

The only constant in Dead Cells is progress. Can’t kill that.

A Good Match For: The folks who hang out at the intersection of Castlevania Street and Rogue Avenue.

Not A Good Match For: Narrative-hungry gamers, as Dead Cells’ occult story is mostly woven in the margins.

Read our review.

See it in action.

best xbox game pass games
Image: Deep Rock Galactic

Deep Rock Galactic

If everything is Left For Dead now, then Deep Rock Galactic fully cornered the space angle. A cooperative PvE shooter, you and up to three other friends choose from one of four playable classes and shoot waves upon waves of space bugs. (All of the classes are unique, each coming with different guns that feel terrific to shoot.) It’s largely set in the subterranean chasms of a mining operation, so, while you’re turning said space bugs into pulp, you also have to juggle menial tasks, like mining minerals and such. Hey, we’ve all gotta work, right?

A Good Match For: Everyone who loves that quintessential Left For Dead formula.

Not A Good Match For: Folks playing solo; Deep Rock Galactic is at its best when you’re playing with friends.

See it in action.

 

slay the spire
Image: Slay The Spire

Slay The Spire

There are some games that come along with an idea, design and execution so good that it transforms the genre around it. Slay the Spire, which incorporates ideas from games like FTL, is one of those.

It’s functionally a dungeon builder where you add cards to your deck the further you progress up the titular Spire. Most of the card mechanics and interactions are relatively simple, even as multiple relics start adding more damage, armour, or interesting quirks that fundamentally change how you approach a game.

Slay the Spire was brilliant even before it was fully released, and it’s a functionally perfect game today. If you’re after a neat distraction that you can enjoy in bite-sized chunks, but a game with enough depth and ease of use that you could happily lose hours to, you won’t find anything better.

Recommended For: Anyone who has enjoyed any card game, ever.

Not Recommended For: Everyone should give Slay the Spire a go.

Read our review.

Read our tips for playing the game.

xbox game pass
Image: Steam

A Plague Tale: Innocence

A Plague Tale: Innocence is not for the faint of heart. Rats, death, war, famine, dead dogs, young children in a ceaseless life-and-death struggle—but if you can stomach it, A Plague Tale’s got all the good stuff. You play as two young children from a royal household on the run from French Inquisition soldiers. A relentlessly challenging stealth game, you’re pretty much done for if you get discovered.

No spoilers here, but the story takes some unexpected and viscerally upsetting turns, if you’re into that sort of thing. Earlier this year, it was upgraded for next-gen consoles, and now boasts some eye-popping visuals. A sequel is on the way, planned for a 2022 release.

A Good Match For: Players looking for tense adventure games.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone hungry for a more lenient action game, à la Uncharted.

Read our impressions.

See it in action.

xbox game pass games
Image: Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

There are a lot of accomplished platformers with Metroidvania elements, but the South Australian-made Hollow Knight might be the greatest achievement of them all. There’s some exceptionally tight controls and astonishingly non-stop beautiful hand-drawn art. The soundtrack is haunting and serene. The level design can be punishing; bosses hard, but always fair once you learn the patterns.

It is, in many ways, the perfect modern rendition of platformers old. The fact that it’s wholly Australian is an extra bonus. I’d just caution that Hollow Knight grows on you. The opening area is perhaps its weakest point, and it’s a game that you very much need to spend time with before it all clicks. If you prefer platformers that are a bit more forgiving, however, the excellent Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a superb second choice. Axiom Verge is also brilliant in its own right, especially for those who prefer the Metroid-era of pixel art.

Recommended For: Fans of Metroidvania games, those who enjoy a challenge, anyone who wants to see the quality of Australian studios.

Not Recommended For: People who hate platformers, people who prefer their games to have more leniency and assistance.

Read our review.

Read our tips for the game.

xbox game pass games
Image: Studio Koba

Narita Boy

From tip to tail, Narita Boy is a love letter to the 1980s: the neon, the synth pop, the references to arcade games, even the bad hairdos. By and large, it’s a slick if mechanically uninspired action platformer. (Jump, dodge, swing sword, shoot gun.) But you’d be hard-pressed to find one with more visual flare. The screen flickers like an old CRT. Pixelated environments pulse with vivid lights. That’s all wrapped in a fascinating mythos, in which technological beings zealously worship their creator as an omniscient god-king.

At the start of the game, you’re sucked into this computer world—which, surprise, is on the brink of disaster at the hand of a malevolent jerk—and tasked with saving it.

A Good Match For: Those who like old-school games but wish they’d play as smoothly as new-school games.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a game that radically shakes the table.

See it in action.

xbox game pass
Image: Thorium

Undermine

Most roguelikes impart the message that failure is fine, that you can try again and again (and again). Not so with UnderMine. Yes, your unlocked equipment and such carries between deaths, but every time you die, that character is dead for good. From the title screen, you can even see a long line of new miners, ready for you to send them to their doom. UnderMine is a competent top-down dungeon-crawling roguelike with some serious Zelda vibes. If that’s your jam, you’ll love it. And if you’re one of those who care deeply about their procedurally generated avatars, you’ll find yourself giving it all you’ve got every run.

A Good Match For: Fans of roguelikes, dungeon crawlings, and older Zelda games.

Not A Good Match For: All those miners.

Read our initial thoughts.

See it in action.

Image: Moonlight Kids

The Wild At Heart

The Wild At Heart starts off with a punch to the gut. You play as Wake, a young kid running away from home—and his terminally drunk father. You run into the woods. You get lost. Within seconds, you’re transported to a magical forest realm and yada yada yada evil spirits taking over the real world. On your holy quest of Making Sure That Doesn’t Happen, you’re accompanied by various elemental forest sprites. Much of the gameplay involves tossing the right number and type of sprite at objects. (Ex: To lift a flaming wheel, you’ll need to hurl three fire-based fellas.) Throw these creatures at enemies, and they’ll fight for you.

In other words: The Wild At Heart is twee Pikmin.

A Good Match For: You, yeah, you—the person holding your breath for Pikmin 4.

Not A Good Match For: Fans of action-focused, combat-heavy games.

See it in action.

xbox game pass
Image: The Game Bakers

Haven

Plenty of games are about hate. Haven is about love. You play as two star-crossed (literally, they cross the stars) lovers, Yu and Kay. The duo escapes their dystopian society for an uncharted exoplanet. Ostensibly, Haven is a survival game with some combat and role-playing elements. You also get to zip around brightly colored alien fields, which is cool.

But the hallmark is the magnetic romance between Yu and Kay. Video games don’t always handle such things with maturity. Haven does. The bond between Yu and Kay ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, just like any relationship you and everyone you know has been in.

A Good Match For: Saps.

Not A Good Match For: Cynics.

Read our impressions, and see it in action.

Image: Supplied

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a solid third-person action game, but that’s not the main draw. The player character, Senua, a fictional Pict warrior who lived in the 900s, suffers from psychosis. Developer Ninja Theory tapped a cadre of mental health experts to properly portray the realities of the condition.

You’ll definitely want to play this one with headphones, as Senua experiences auditory hallucinations (“Furies,” per her). The sound design there is unrivalled. That alone is worth giving this one a spin.

A Good Match For: Fans of hack-and-slash, psychological horror, and standard action fare.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who hoped the ballyhooed permadeath feature was actually a permadeath. People who don’t want puzzles in their action games.

Read our impressions, and when you’re finished, read this to better understand the ending.

xbox game pass
Image: Matt Makes Games

Celeste

Don’t be fooled by its charm. Celeste will kill you—a lot. The 2D platformer demands near-perfect precision for every series of jumps. When, not if, you mess up, you’ll respawn in a millisecond. And you’re always so close to making it. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to shake the game’s inherent “Okay, just one more try” feeling. (The game has a robust assist mode, allowing you to tone down the difficulty vis-a-vis various parameters like game speed.)That alone would be worth checking out, but the game also pulls double-duty as a profound meditation on anxiety.

Celeste tells the story of Madeline, and of her goal to literally climb a mountain (hooray for metaphors!). Over the course of seven chapters, you’ll get a crash course in how anxiety manifests, how it refuses to go away, how it can make you feel like you’re your own worst enemy. Celeste doesn’t feature any spoken dialogue, but it doesn’t need human voices to hammer its point. Killer soundtrack, too.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking to test their platforming skills, or to simply feel feelings.

Not A Good Match For: Those who want a massive game; you can finish Celeste in under 10 hours.

Read our review.

xbox game pass
Image: Thunder Lotus Games

Spiritfarer

Nothing describes Spiritfarer as succinctly as its tagline does: “a cozy management game about dying.” Spiritfarer puts you in the shoes of Stella, a young woman who’s taken over Charon’s famous duties to ferry departed souls into the afterlife. That sounds dark, but all of those lost souls take the form of distinctly personable, irresistibly charming anthropomorphic animals. During their time aboard your ship, yes, as with any other management game, you have to tend to their needs—usually, food—but you can do so on your own schedule. There’s no price for failure. Even Spiritfarer’s resource-hounding mini-games, of which there are many, generally beget some sort of prize. Best of all, you can hug any of your spirit pals if they’re feeling down. It’s impossible to overstate just how nice this is. Throw in some placid watercolor art, some charming animations, and a magical cat and the result is more or less a cashmere throw in video game form. Just heed this one warning: Keep the tissues nearby. Spiritfarer can be heartbreaking.

A Good Match For: Hygge. The over-stressed. Those seeking some peace and quiet.

Not A Good Match For: Those who need their games to be fast-paced and competitive. Anyone expecting an Animal Crossing clone; despite the similarities, Spiritfarer isn’t the type of game you play forever.

Read our impressions.

Screenshot: Platinum Games Screenshot: Platinum Games

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.

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.

Screenshot: Sega Screenshot: Sega
xbox game pass
Image: Steam

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!

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.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Image: SEGA

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.

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.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.


Latest update: Regulars will notice a total overhaul. We’ve decided to retool this list to largely focus on smaller games you might gloss over that are nonetheless worth your time. Gone, too, is the longstanding limitation of calling out just 12 games. We’ve also pushed off most of the first-party Xbox Game Pass games you’ve probably already played (Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Doom Eternal, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps) and given the boot to Batman: Arkham Knight. Also, Outer Wilds and CrossCode are no longer part of Xbox Game Pass, so they’re no longer part of this piece.

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.

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).

Comments

  • It would be cool if the article specified which of these games are available on both XBox Game Pass and PC Game Pass.

  • Personal opinion here, but Forza Horizon 4 should never be removed from this list.. not until the next Forza game goes on there.

    Again, just an opinion, but I’ve always thought the best lists will cover a big range of gamers and there is nothing in here for driving fans. Now I’m not saying put a crap driving game on here to be a ‘complete’ list, but FH4 is anything but a crap game.

    Glad to see Outer Worlds get on there, I downloaded it on a whim and ended up finding it to be a great game. It doesn’t outstay it’s welcome like many games of its ilk can with fetch quests to pad out the run time and was easy to understand and play.

  • Red dead’s about to leave. Maybe you should of pre-empted that and saved republishing this story again in 2 weeks time

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