Xbox Game Pass is the best reason to own an Xbox. It’s basically Netflix for gaming — you sign up, for for Game Pass at $10 a month (or $15 for Game Pass Ultimate) and immediately get access to over a hundred games you can download and play at your leisure. New games are added — and removed — each month. (Just recently the very awesome The Artful Escape was added.)
If you’re already a subscriber of Xbox Game Pass, you know that it’s awesome. And it’ll only get better, with titles like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 launching on Game Pass later this year. There are dozens of excellent titles, both AAA and indie. Game Pass Ultimate nets you access to a bunch of EA Play games, too.
Get the CNET Culture newsletter
Explore movies, games, superheroes and more with CNET Culture. Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays.
Here are our picks for some of the very best games on the service.
A game about unpacking boxes and moving into a series of new house and apartments doesn’t sound like game of the year material, but it somehow is. Unpacking is brilliantly made and perfectly executed. It’s also… surprisingly emotional. Get on it.
The Artful Escape
The Artful Escape is unlike any game you’ve ever played.
“The elevator pitch is like if David Bowie went off on a space journey and came back as Ziggy Stardust,” the game’s creator, Johnny Galvatron, told CNET.
It tells the story of teenage guitar prodigy Francis Vendetti in the small town of Calypso, Colorado, as he tries to break through creative block in time for his first ever live performance.
It’s absolutely wild and you should play it
This Supergiant Games title is relatively new to the service, joining on Aug. 13. It’s a big deal, since Hades won many Game of the Year nods in 2020. It’s a beautiful 2D roguelite game, a genre that’s enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment. Essentially it means you begin from scratch once you die, and the object is to clear the game’s levels in one go without dying. That may sound overly tough and harsh, but I assure you — Hades is incredible. Give it a go this weekend.
Yakuza Like a Dragon
Yakuza Like a Dragon is a funny, charming RPG, one that pokes fun at genre tropes and doesn’t take itself very seriously. Yakuza is a long-running franchise, but you don’t need to have played any previous games to enjoy Like a Dragon. It has a new protagonist and a self-contained story, and it features turn-based combat that’s new to the series. It’s a lengthy adventure, but one that has loveable characters and an engaging story.
There is a lot of dialogue here, with many lengthy cutscenes. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ll find a lot to love in Like a Dragon.
Doom Eternal is one of Xbox Game Pass’ bigger third-party games. It’s a sequel to 2016’s Doom, a reboot of the classic shooter franchise, and involves killing lots and lots (and lots) of demons. The game was well received upon its March 2019 release, getting an 8/10 from our sister site GameSpot.
It’s not every day you get to describe a video game as “Lynchian” — but here I go anyway. Control is a Lynchian adventure that revolves around you the Federal Bureau of Control, a secret US governmental agency that oversees all things that defy the laws of reality. And you, as protagonist Jesse Faden, are the FBC’s new director. Good luck!
Control is may be one of the best big budget video games of recent years, winning multiple Game of the Year Awards in 2019, and is certainly one of the boldest.
The Outer Worlds
Speaking of imaginative games, The Outer Worlds is an RPG from Obsidian, the gang behind Fallout New Vegas, and it’s a winner. It’s set in an alternative universe where Theodore Roosevelt didn’t regulate big US firms in the early 20th century, which led to them… colonizing the galaxy, obviously. So in essence, it’s Fallout in space. Game Pass Ultimate users can play it on both PC and Xbox.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful game from Moon Studios that’s a sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest. A heartfelt platformer and adventure game, it’s a little like a mix between Metroid, Castlevania and Rayman. It received much praise upon its 2017 release, with GameSpot calling it “a remarkable synthesis of artful design and beautiful moments.”
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Master Chief Collection is a remastered package that includes Halo 1, 2 and 3, ODST, Rach and Halo 4. Yep, that’s a lot of Halo. The game was criticized upon release for poor online multiplayer and technical glitches, but patches have since fixed those problems. This is a great way to prepare yourself for Halo: Infinite, which launches later this year.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
RPG games don’t get much bigger than Dragon Quest. That’s both figurative and literal: The Dragon Quest brand has been an RPG benchmark for decades, and Dragon Quest XI S is a giant game. It’ll take you over 50 hours to beat and well over double that to see everything. Over those dozens (or hundreds) of hours, you’ll meet colorful, memorable characters and enjoy some of the genre’s best turn-based combat.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a rare type of game: A licensed title that doesn’t suck. In fact, not only does it not suck, GameSpot’s Phil Hornshaw called it “one of the most compelling game additions to the Star Wars franchise in years.”
This action adventure retains the feel and charm of Star Wars, so it’s a solid way to tide yourself over until the next Star War comes to Disney Plus. Note, though, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of many new games to join the service courtesy of EA Play, and is only downloadable by Game Pass Ultimate subscribers.
Gears 5 Ultimate
Gears 5 Ultimate is one of Xbox Game Pass’ crown jewels. The 2019 blockbuster is one of the Xbox One’s biggest first-party games, and the very fact that games of its ilk are on Game Pass speaks to how seriously Microsoft is investing in the service. It’s available on both Xbox One and PC.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V needs no introduction. Not only is it part of arguably the most famous US gaming franchise ever, it’s a game that’s been around for eight years now. After launching on the Xbox One and PlayStation 3, it was ported over to the Xbox One and PS4 — and later this year will come to the Series X|S and PS5. Despite its age, GTA V is still a hot game. It regularly tops charts, recently hitting 150 million in sales, and GTA Online still pops off.
Rainbow Six Siege Deluxe Edition
If you’re after a multiplayer shooter, this is a good place to start. Rainbow Six Siege was released in 2015, but don’t let that turn you off. It was designed to be an esports game, and has evolved with updates over the years. A squad-based shooter, it has a vibrant online community to this day.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
Skyrim is one of the most iconic role-playing games of the last decade, and for good reason. It’s big, it’s bold and, most importantly, has dragons. The special edition of Skyrim, which is a remastered version of the original, is now on Game Pass, a great option for those wanting to re-visit Tamriel — and especially great for people yet to visit.
Forza Horizon 4
As far as non-first person shooters go, Forza is arguably Microsoft’s biggest and best exclusive franchise. Forza Horizon 4 takes place out in a world based on Great Britain, and received huge acclaim upon its 2018 release. It’s available alongside Forza Motorsport 7, in which you race on a track rather than the open road.
If you’re tired of big budget first-person-shooters, give Dead Cells a go. It’s a beautiful, colorful Metroidvania style action platformer that was released in 2018 to critical acclaim. It continues to be a cult favorite and is absolutely worth a download if you haven’t yet played it (and even if you have). It’s playable on both Xbox and PC via Game Pass Ultimate.
Destiny 2 is a hugely popular loot shooter developed by Bungie, the gang that brought you the original Halo. It’s not new though, having hit the Xbox One in 2017. Now is a perfect time to jump in — or back in — to Destiny 2 though, with a big expansion, Beyond Light, having launched in November.
Celeste is one of the biggest and most loved indie games of the last few years. It’s superficially a platform game about climbing a mountain, but, as noted in GameSpot’s 9/10 review, the less you know about the themes and true meaning of the game before playing, the better.
Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves is developer Rare’s No Man’s Sky. A game set around exploration, it was criticized on release, but later, after many updates and tweaks, it was lauded as being great. Unlike No Man’s Sky, which is all about space exploration, Sea of Thieves is an open-sea adventure centered on you becoming a legendary pirate. It’s a game you can sink dozens and dozens of hours into, and has been improved even more by the recent Pirate’s Life expansion.
No Man’s Sky
Oh yeah, and speaking of No Man’s Sky… it’s also on Game Pass. So if you’d rather explore space over the seas, go download Hello Game’s much improved (since launch) game.
Wasteland 3 is an isometric RPG. That description really doesn’t do it justice in any sense though, as this postapocalyptic game is filled with an admirable mix of both tension, quirk and charm. It’s set in 22nd century Colorado, and includes both psycho clowns and a cult dedicated to Ronald Reagan. What more do you need?
What Remains of Edith Finch
This is the perfect game for a service like Game Pass. What Remains of Edith Finch is a two-hour title that you’ll finish in one sit through. It’s hard to describe the gameplay in a way that does it justice, so I’ll just say that it’s a haunting exploration of the history of the Finch family. Play it.
Read more: 3 great VPNs for Xbox in 2021