The 25 best games on Game Pass
2021 was a banner year for Xbox Game Pass, and 2022 is already looking promising.
With Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda early last year, the service added a host of beloved games like Skyrim and Fallout 3. And with Microsoft’s recent announcement that it’s acquiring Activision Blizzard, Game Pass’ reputation as the best deal in video games is potentially about to expand even further. It’s likely — although not confirmed — that we could see games like Overwatch, Diablo 3, and maybe even World of Warcraft join the Game Pass lineup in the next few years.
But the service already features a massive, colorful library of indie and AAA games from across the industry. More games launch onto Game Pass on release day than ever before, and most are also available on Windows PC with PC Game Pass, which is included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
With such a large and diverse lineup, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. But we’re here to help. Here are the 25 best PC and Xbox Game Pass games that are worth your time.
[Ed. note: This list was last updated on Jan. 20, 2022. It will be updated as new games come to the service.]
Outriders (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: People Can Fly/Square Enix
Outriders is a third-person, class-based loot-shooter in which three-player squads upgrade their base, keep their community safe, improve their gear, and explore the game’s pseudo-open world. The setting, characters, and even the powers of each class seem like they were lifted from other popular games of the past 10 years, but that’s not a knock against it.
Outriders delivers the satisfying action and loot management gameplay loop that has kept me hooked on games like Destiny 2, The Division 2, Gears of War, Fortnite, and all the other titans in the genre for this long. —Ben Kuchera
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: 343 Industries/Xbox Game Studios
The Xbox brand might never have taken off without the Halo series, the first-person shooters that helped to popularize local competitive multiplayer on consoles before taking the party online after the launch of Xbox Live. The Master Chief Collection package includes multiple Halo games, all of which have been updated to keep them enjoyable for modern audiences.
But what’s so striking about the collection is how many ways there are to play. You can go through the campaigns by yourself. If you want to play with a friend but don’t want to compete, there is co-op, allowing you to share the games’ stories with a partner, either online or through split-screen play. If you do want to compete, you can do it locally against up to three other players on the same TV, or take things online to challenge the wider community.
These are some of the best first-person shooters ever released, and they’re worth revisiting and enjoying, no matter how you decide to play them. Sharing these games with my children through local co-op has been an amazing journey, and this package includes so many games, each of which is filled with different modes and options. It’s hard to imagine ever getting bored or uninstalling the collection once it’s on your hard drive.
This is a part of gaming history that continues to feel relevant, and very much alive. —Ben Kuchera
Slay the Spire (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
In Slay the Spire, I play as one of three unique characters, in order to fight my way through a randomly generated map filled with battles, treasure chests, and RPG-like encounters. Combat is similar to that of a turn-based RPG, but instead of selecting attacks and spells from a menu, I draw cards from each character’s specific pool of cards. These cards allow me to attack, defend, cast spells, or use special abilities. Each character has their own set of cards, making their play styles radically different.
I also learned to buck my expectations for the kinds of decks I should build. The key to deck-building games is constructing a thematic deck where each card complements the others. In card games like Magic: The Gathering, this is easy enough to do, since you do all your planning before a match — not in the moment, like in Slay the Spire. Since I’m given a random set of cards to build a deck from at the end of each encounter, I can’t go into any run with a certain deck-building goal in mind. I have to quickly decide on long-term deck designs based on what cards are available to me after a battle. The trick with Slay the Spire is to think more creatively and proactively than the typical card game requires. —Jeff Ramos
Carrion (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Phobia Game Studios/Devolver Digital via Polygon
Carrion is a game for anyone who has ever stopped at a mirror to glance at that screaming flesh prison we call a body and thought, “Ugh, I’m a monster.”
A pixelated side-scrolling “reverse horror” game, Carrion puts players in the role of its own anomalous creature: a cartilaginous mass of mouths, teeth, and tendrils that moves like a sentient wad of spaghetti meat possessed by some eldritch horror. It looks like it should be the end boss of this sort of adventure, not the hero of it.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward: You’re an extraterrestrial entity that was discovered by agents of a shadowy biotech corporation and subjected to a battery of invasive and humiliating experiments.
But one day, you break free of the containment chamber and immediately begin to rip and tear through everyone and everything in your single-minded pursuit of escape. Imagine, if possible, a version of Ape Out filtered through the body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing. —Toussaint Egan
Among Us (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Among Us was originally released in 2018, but it took the events of 2020 to make it a phenomenon. You can play with up to 10 players, running around each level trying to finish tasks while an imposter (or several) tries to kill everyone else without being found out. It’s basically a goofy take on The Thing, but weaponized as a social game with multiple levels of strategy. How the imposter tries to get away with it, and talk their way out of it when emergency meetings are called, is half the fun.
There’s something amazing about the idea that there are so many games out there, so many titles across so many platforms, that the near-perfect game for every situation seems to already exist … somewhere. In this case, it was found and rescued from relative obscurity, and there’s even a free-to-play iOS and Android version that can connect with PC players if you want to get a crew together.
The thought of all those hidden gems, just waiting to be given a second chance, is comforting in a time when so many people are finding it hard to continue to be creative, or have hope at all.
Among Us helped show us that relief may come from unexpected places, and the game has been keeping players occupied, and laughing, ever since it took off in the summer of 2020. —Ben Kuchera
Tetris Effect: Connected (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Monstars, Resonair/Enhance Games
Tetris Effect: Connected is another game that offers so many ways to play, and it’s also one that’s easy to match with folks who might be intimidated by most other games.
The core game is pure Tetris: Flip the pieces, create solid horizontal lines across the board, and watch them disappear as you try to deal with the falling shapes before your tower reaches the top. But the campaign brings in beautiful music and pulsing, shifting visual effects that help bring the experience to new heights of relaxation and satisfaction. It’s Tetris with a pulse, both literally and figuratively.
This version of the game comes with a suite of online modes so you can play with or against others to prove your skill or practice your fundamentals. You can play purely for the relaxation of the music and visuals if you’d like, or you can adjust the game’s options until the experience is pared down to pure ability and reaction time. How you play, and what you get out of it, is up to you. Tetris Effect: Connected is a platform as much as a single game, giving you many ways of enjoying one of the best puzzle games ever created.
Tetris Effect: Connected can show off what your home theater can do in terms of image quality and sound system, sure, but it also teaches that truly inspired game design doesn’t have an expiration date. There may be better versions of Tetris released in the future, but it’s going to be hard to top this one. —Ben Kuchera
Minecraft (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios
Minecraft is a game in which everything looks like it’s made out of large, square blocks, and you can harvest materials and use them to build whatever you’d like out of those blocks.
There isn’t much left to say about Minecraft that hasn’t already been said, but the game remains popular online, and it has the ability to keep my children occupied in a way no other game can match, in my experience. They ignore the survival mode and go straight for creative, treating it like a split-screen world in which they can build anything they’d like, without worrying about whether they’re going to run out of Lego bricks.
It’s a game that can be meditative when played alone and social when shared with others, and there are mountains of user-created content to sift through and explore. Like the rest of the games on this list, Minecraft is very easy to get into, but you may find it tricky to leave. —Ben Kuchera
Hades (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Supergiant Games
Hades takes you down into the Greek underworld, putting you in the shoes of Zagreus, son of the Greek god of death. But being Hades’ kid, trapped in hell for all eternity, sucks. So you have to battle your way out of the depths (with help from your godly aunts, uncles, and cousins) over, and over, and over again.
Hades was Polygon’s 2020 game of the year not just because it’s an exceptional roguelite, but because it’s filled with story and style. Each failed adventure sees you return, defeated, to the house of Hades. But before setting out again, you can chat to the various members of your house. Sure, these conversations offer helpful boons to help you escape your father’s oppressive grasp — but they also build the world around you in a way few other roguelites do.
Supergiant Games has built a reputation on making games that marry style and story with mechanics. Hades is its best creation yet.
Stardew Valley (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Stardew Valley is quaint, but in the best way possible.
You start the game by inheriting a farm from your grandfather, and you then move to a sleepy town to take over the diminishing acres. For the next 10, 20, 50, 100-plus hours, you work to turn that farm into a modern utopia.
This is easily the most relaxing game on Game Pass. All you do is plant seeds, care for animals, mine some rocks, and befriend the villagers. There’s plenty of drama to be had — with the Wal-Mart-like JojaMart and an army of slimes trying to stop you from mining — but at the end of the day, you’re still going to pass out in your farmhouse and get ready to plant more strawberries the next morning.
Age of Empires 4 (PC)
Image: Relic Entertainment/Xbox Game Studios
Age of Empires 4 serves as a reminder of what came before. It’s a classic real-time strategy game on PC that pits historic empires against one another. It has several campaigns, narrated like history documentaries, as well as online skirmishes so you can battle against friends.
But there are loads of other historic RTS games out there. What makes Age of Empires 4 special is that it came out in 2021. It’s a game designed to remind players what they loved about RTS games when they were all the rage over a decade ago, but it trades out aged sprites for glorious visuals and smooth performance.
Rare Replay (Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Rare/Microsoft Studios
Putting Rare Replay on this list is almost like cheating, as it’s really a bundle of multiple games — but we’re going to do it anyway. Before Rare made Sea of Thieves, it was responsible for some of the most beloved games of all time. And (almost) all of them are in the Rare Replay collection
Viva Piñata and its sequel, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, are excellent building and management games where you have to grow your garden of sentient piñatas. Perfect Dark is a beloved early first-person shooter from the same developers that built GoldenEye 007. Banjo-Kazooie is the best 3D platformer from the Nintendo 64 era. Its sequel, Banjo-Tooie, is also excellent.
Rare has an incredible history, and almost all of it is playable on your Xbox with Game Pass and Rare Replay.
Nobody Saves the World (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Drinkbox Studios
Nobody Saves the World is a delightful RPG from DrinkBox Studios, the indie team behind the Guacamelee games. You play as a bizarre, white husk with the unique ability to transform into a variety of creatures. By completing quests, you’ll improve the forms you have and unlock even more.
Nobody Saves the World is weird and funny. It’s silly and colorful. And it’s got an excellent gameplay loop. Each form plays differently, and you can use abilities and bonuses from other forms to further customize your playstyle. You’ll need to experiment to find wacky ability combinations and defeat enemies or solve puzzles.
DrinkBox has built something really special with Nobody Saves the World, and it’s the perfect Game Pass game to pick up for a weekend.
Unpacking (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Witch Beam/Humble Games
Unpacking is a simple little game where you unpack your belongings and place them in a room. Each item has a variety of places where it can be, and it’s up to you to decorate your space in a sensible way. It’s calming, and a little cathartic, allowing you to transform chaos into order.
Where Unpacking really impresses, though, is in its environmental storytelling. You’ll unpack multiple rooms and apartments in a single character’s life, watching them grow from a child, to a college student, to a struggling young adult with a boyfriend who won’t give them any apartment space. You only ever interact with the character via their possessions, and it allows you to see how things change in their life through aging stuffed animals or a toothbrush cup they drag from home to home.
It’s quick and affecting, the perfect Game Pass game to pick up and try out one room at a time.
Doom (2016) (Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: id Software/Bethesda Softworks
2016’s Doom builds off of one of the oldest franchises in gaming history with speed, acrobatics, and an absolutely killer soundtrack. Doomguy moves extremely quickly, swapping between a variety of guns, grenades, melee attacks, and a giant chainsaw to blow up demons off of Mars.
The game is bloody, metal as hell, and surprisingly funny. Doom makes you feel like a god, capable of clearing any hurdle the game could throw at you, and it doesn’t offer a single dull level in its lengthy campaign.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts
The Mass Effect franchise was gigantic for the Xbox 360 era, but it didn’t transfer to future platforms well — purchasing and downloading the entire story became confusing and expensive when moving to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. But 2021’s Legendary Edition finally made the entire Mass Effect trilogy accessible in one package.
The story follows Commander Shepard, a futuristic military hero, who’s tasked with gathering a collection of alien misfits for a variety of missions. Each game is wonderfully crafted, with stand-alone stories and breakout characters that don’t rely on the series’ wider narrative. As a trilogy, the games build on each other with meaningful choices that carry over to the next entry, giving weight to your choices.
The Legendary Edition is the way to experience Mass Effect, and it’s a must-play whether you’re on your first run to save the galaxy or your fifth.
Unsighted (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Studio Pixel Punk/Humble Games
Unsighted is a top-down Zelda-like dungeon crawler with great tunes and excellent art. But what separates it from the average dungeon-crawling adventure is its focus on time and the way it affects the world around us.
Unsighted takes place in the post-apocalypse, around a group of robot survivors who are looking to rebuild. Every character in Unsighted only has so many hours left before they die — and you can see it ticking away next to their name as you speak to them. You can extend someone’s life, but not without paying a rare resource found in dungeons and around the open world. And, of course, you have a ticking timer as well. If you’re not careful, you may find that one of your key shopkeepers or dear friends has run out of time while you were off looking for resources to extend your own life.
If that sounds stressful, you can turn the time feature off for a more traditional experience.
Remnant: From the Ashes (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Gunfire Games
Remnant: From the Ashes is Dark Souls by way of Gears of War. Instead of animation-locked melee combat like in FromSoftware’s titles, Remnant From the Ashes is a third-person shooter with a unique roster of bizarre guns. But despite the game’s much longer combat range, it manages to replicate the tension of the hyper-difficult games its developers were clearly inspired by. It’s punishing, and you only have so many swigs of your health potion before you go down for good.
Remnant From the Ashes is for more than just masochists, though. As a game you can optionally play in co-op, it offers a major difficulty step up from playing Gears of War on the couch with your buddies. Each player is able to customize their loadout to help the group succeed. And when you’re working together with your partner, it delivers one of the best campaign multiplayer experiences in recent memory.
Nier: Automata: Become as Gods Edition (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: PlatinumGames/Square Enix
Nier: Automata is the weirdest game on this list, but that’s what makes it a must-play. It masquerades as an anime action game in a post-apocalyptic world. And while it very much is an anime action game in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s got a ton of interesting mechanics and storytelling techniques boiling beneath its surface.
Automata is an existential meditation on consciousness and purpose. It’s got charm and darkness. There are goofy, singing robots and brutal destruction. And it all unfolds over multiple playthroughs of a similar campaign. Each replay offers new details and missions to uncover, and it all plays into a larger mystery.
It’s game director Yoko Taro’s magnum opus, and it’s not to be missed.
Spelunky 2 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Bitworks/Mossmoth via Polygon
Spelunky 2 is the follow-up to one of the most beloved roguelikes ever made. The sequel is still a treasure-seeking, ultra-hard adventure, but takes place on the moon instead of on Earth. You’ll run through a variety of biomes nabbing treasure, whipping enemies, and trying not to get killed by a variety of traps.
Spelunky is hard, and its very sensitive controls can be hard to get used to. But those two aspects of the game come together to form a satisfying loop that punishes the player as often as it rewards them. Those moments of success make you feel like you’re getting away with something — like Indiana Jones sliding under a door in the nick of time, but still managing to grab his hat.
Control (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Remedy Entertainment/505 Games
Control is a third-person shooter that takes place in a giant, government-run office building. As Jesse Faden, director of the Federal Bureau of Control, you’ll use your magical gun and the powers of telekinesis to take down legions of mysterious enemies inside the labyrinthian department.
Control takes the David Lynch-inspired horror of Remedy’s past franchise, Alan Wake, and moves it to a more corporate setting. It’s bizarre, creative, and features some incredibly memorable sequences toward the end. Control is a combination of some of the more cerebral and action-based games on this list, but it manages to play both roles well.
Outer Wilds (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Mobius/Annapurna Interactive
Outer Wilds is a giant mystery, and the less that’s said about it, the better.
The gist is that your small solar system ends and restarts every 22 minutes. Your job is to discover why that’s happening, and put the clues together so you can attempt to stop it.
Outer Wilds is a game all about information gathering. There are no experience points or combat, only knowledge. But that knowledge will propel you to bizarre and interesting places. And once you’re finally done, you’ll wish you could erase it all from your memory and play it again.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks
The Elder Scrolls 5, better known as just Skyrim, is a classic. And while you can play it on almost any console or device known to humankind at this point, it’s still worth playing on Game Pass if you’ve never given it a chance, or are just craving another journey in its sprawling world.
Like most Bethesda RPGs, Skyrim is a first-person game with a giant, living world. There are dungeons to crawl, stories to uncover, and a variety of guilds to join. But you can also go off the beaten path and discover your own fun in Skyrim — it rewards you for being curious. It’s the kind of Game Pass game that you can play for hundreds of hours and never get bored.
Forza Horizon 5 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon
Forza Horizon 5 is the latest racing game to land on Xbox and Game Pass. It’s a visual feast filled with some of the most realistic-looking cars you’ve ever seen. But anyone who loves any of these Forza games will tell you that the Horizon series is so much more than its graphics.
Horizon 5 takes place in a fictionalized Mexico, and gives you the freedom to drive around a massive map in whatever car you want. You can drive a nice sports car while off-roading, or drive a hummer off a massive ramp.
Forza Horizon 5 gives you the freedom and choice to drive how and where you want inside a legion of incredible cars.
Hitman Trilogy (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: IO Interactive
Hitman, Hitman 2, and Hitman 3 are some of the best sandbox puzzle games ever made. As Agent 47, you’ll climb buildings, sneak around parties, and murder spies and debutantes with all manner of tools. The trilogy on Game Pass includes the campaigns from all three of the games in IO Interactive’s recent World of Assassination trilogy, giving you more than a dozen maps to play on.
The Hitman series may be about violence and murder, but it manages to stay lighthearted and fun with its wild physics and silly scenarios. It’s the perfect series to goof around in if you feel like being stealthy, or just want to see what happens when you drop a giant chandelier on a crowd of snobby jerks.
Death’s Door (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Image: Acid Nerve/Devolver Digital
Death’s Door is a cute little Soulslike game. You play as a raven who works as a kind of grim reaper for the bureaucratic arm of the afterlife. It’s your job to adventure in the world and claim the lives of a handful of bosses. The world of Death’s Door is charming, as are its characters, with excellent dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve. There are also giant enemies who will test both your skills and patience.
Still, Death’s Door has a friendly air around it. It wants you to succeed, and does a nice job easing you along with easy-to-read enemy and boss patterns. It’s a great, challenging Game Pass game to cut your teeth on before venturing into even more difficult titles.
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