The 30 Best Games on Xbox Game Pass

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The 30 Best Games on Xbox Game Pass

Perhaps the best thing about the Xbox One is Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s subscription service lets you stream dozens of games at a time for a monthly payment of $9.99 ($14.99 if you want to subscribe on both your console and PC). For that sum you get access to some of the best games you can play on an Xbox One, from last year’s excellent Outer Wilds and A Plague Tale, to perennial Xbox favorites like the entire Halo and Gears of War series. Xbox Game Pass offers up an exciting mix of big-budget blockbusters and fascinating experiments by smaller teams and independent developers, insuring that there’ll be something for players of every taste to play. If you’ve been hoping for a Netflix for games, this is the closest and best option you’ll find on the market today.

Paste has dug through the entire lineup of games currently available on Game Pass, and come up with this list of 30 that we can recommend without reservation. There are many other games on Game Pass worth playing, but these 30 are the best of the bunch.

A Plague Tale: Innocence

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This subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin


The Banner Saga

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This wonderful war game combines a gorgeous art style right out of classic Disney features with the turn-based strategy of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. It has real stakes, too, with major characters leaving the story for good depending on your decisions and success on the battlefield. It’s an engrossing tale of Viking intrigue and one of the best-looking games you’ll ever play, making it a smart pick for Game Pass.—Garrett Martin


Creature in the Well

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This dungeon crawler with a weird, comedic heart is about a robot who ventures into dungeons to, more or less, play pinball. Players are tasked with venturing into eight different dungeons to restore power to an ancient facility deep within some arid desert mountain—a mountain that turns out to be haunted by a large, seemingly desperate creature. The player character, Bot-C, is often taunted and toyed with by the large bony creature that always seems to be watching Bot-C’s endeavors. These endeavors consist of entering electrified rooms that are top-down pinball puzzles that play like a cross between Diablo, brick breakers, and traditional pinball. Through its puzzles and subtle worldbuilding, Creature in the Well’s heart is powered by the allure of questions. Who is Bot-C? What is this creature doing here? Why did the power turn off in the first place? These are but a few questions posed by Creature in the Well and, as one plays, these questions are often answered in satisfying ways.—Cole Henry


Dead Cells

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Not content with sheer novelty, Dead Cells importantly taps into the most significant aspect of both of the genres it fuses together. Few games are as addictive as those Metroid-style backtrackers, and perhaps the only thing that has come close this decade is the spate of roguelike platformers that flourished in Spelunky’s wake. Dead Cells beautifully captures what makes both of those genres impossible to put down, uniting the “just one more” drive of a roguelike with the “must keep going” compulsion of a Metroid. It’s a smart, confident piece of work, and anybody interested in either of the genres it builds on should consider checking it out.—Garrett Martin


Dishonored 2

The most striking thing about Dishonored 2 is its confidence. It creates massive, sprawling levels, with lots of details to discern and small-scale stories to discover, and hardly ever forces you to explore even half of them. You can spend dozens of hours uncovering every secret and trying hard not to kill anybody, or just blitz through, crossbows a-blazin’, in a sprint to the finish line. New scenarios regularly introduce new twists on core mechanics or standard game geometry, and they always feel of a piece with the game’s world and characters. Even when you take the longest path and embrace everything the game has to offer, it never feels repetitive or self-indulgent, and that extra attention to detail fills out what is already one of the more fully realized worlds in games. Add in a strong focus on characters, both new and old, and a multitude of play styles, and you have one of the best action games of the year.—Garrett Martin


DOOM (2016)

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I guess if you dig into the lore, this is actually a sequel with the same character that survived at the end of Doom 2. But come on. You hold a giant gun. You sprint down hallways filled with demons. You blast them to pieces. This is the original game had John Romero et al had access to black magic and 21st century tech in 1993. It’s a good thing they didn’t; they would have been thrown in jail for exploding people’s fragile pre-millennium heads.—Jon Irwin


Fable II

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Early in Fable II you encounter a traveling salesman hawking a magical music box he claims will grant a single wish when played. Though you initially sneer at the notion, a mysterious hooded figure named Theresa encourages you to buy it, reminding you that you want to believe it’s real. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels carried the same implicit message: keep your sense of wonder intact, guard against heart-petrifying cynicism. Fable II is itself a magical music box, but the damn thing can’t stop granting wishes.—Jason Killingsworth


Fallout: New Vegas

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New Vegas was the closest we got to full resolution between the two distinct eras in Fallout history. It couldn’t restore how Fallout once looked, but it did a grand job at incorporating the lore—almost too good, really. Hidden in the many NPCs and histories of New Vegas were tidbits and details that melded the game to its true legacy, from The Chosen One’s companion’s granddaughter, Whiskey Rose, to the scraggly remains of old factions like The Followers of the Apocalypse, families like the Van Graffs, and familiar bands of Raiders, like the Vipers and the Khans. In location, it was even set extremely close to the series’ original settings of Mount Whitney and Bakersfield, so much so that I’m surprised that modders haven’t written more adventures revisiting the old stomping grounds out in southern California.

The writing of Fallout: New Vegas, for as vast and beautifully woven as it was, also gave me the sense that the writers weren’t saving their best for later. Every mission and NPC encounter seemed to be crafted with intent and purpose. For the hundreds upon thousands of interactions and dialogues and pivotal, interlocking decisions, the quality never faltered, and since the game’s debut in 2010, I’ve yet to see such a masterful set-up and execution for post-release content.—Holly Green


Fallout 4

It’s amazing that something with Fallout 4’s scope and magnitude remains as bewitching as this game does. Bethesda’s formula is overly familiar by this point, but from a story perspective these games exploit the freedom afforded by the medium more than almost any other notable examples. Fallout 4 is built on mystery and discovery. We can charge through the main storyline as quickly as we’d like, but the true power of this game comes from exploring at our own pace, uncovering its secrets in no certain order and at no set time.—Garrett Martin


Halo: The Master Chief Collection

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Yes, the main reason most people got an Xbox to begin with is on Game Pass in full force, with this collection of the first six Halo games. Relive the series that proved that first-person shooters could work on a console, or work your way through it for the first time, in this compilation that’s just stuffed full of content. It has, like, five full games, and a DLC-length add-on that somehow stars the voices of like three Firefly cast members. Even if you aren’t a fan of Halo’s repetitive combat or sci-fi sterility, you’ll probably be a fan of how much time you can spend in this one—especially if you get bogged down in the online business.—Garrett Martin


Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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When I think about the gameplay of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, how Senua comes to work with, and not against, her intrusive thoughts and distorted perceptions, the word “self-acceptance” comes to mind. While some may see it as a horror game, I like to think of it as a love story, one that explores the power of finding someone who does not have to fully understand you in order to know who you are. Notable for its sharply intimate knowledge of Celtic and Norse traditions, its simple but satisfying combat and its innovative depiction of psychosis, it is impressive how the game manages to marry these three aspects and still deliver a well-scripted action game that achieves a balance between its puzzle elements, cut scenes and action sequences. Despite the despair in Senua’s story, her father’s abuse, the alienation of her village and her doomed fight to bring her lover back from the dead, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is hopeful. It suggests there is still a meaningful life to be lived even if your perception of the world is so dramatically different from other people. And I find that encouraging and beautiful.—Holly Green


Hollow Knight

Any game can be hard. That’s not what makes Hollow Knight so great, at least not alone. Team Cherry’s first game is a charming Metroid-style game full of warmth, humor, precise platforming, and, yes, brutal, forbidding difficulty that’ll make you think of a Souls game. (Look, I know that’s a cliche, but writers wouldn’t make that reference so often if it wasn’t so often true.) Hollow Knight is a great example of how to reference the past without dwelling on it—of how to churn ideas and mechanics and aesthetics from previous generations of videogames into something new and original.—Garrett Martin


Hydro Thunder Hurricane

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Xbox Live’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion was partially responsible for making “indie games” mainstream. Over the years Braid, Limbo, Bastion and other games were initially released under that umbrella. Hydro Thunder Hurricane was also a Summer of Arcade game, and it couldn’t be any more different than those three. It’s a score-chasing sequel to a popular old arcade game, where the only goal is to pilot your boat through obstacle courses as quickly and accurately as possible. It shares one crucial trait with the Limbos and Bastions of the world: it’s laser-focused on what it’s trying to do, resulting in a game as elegantly designed as any artsy puzzler.—Garrett Martin


Life Is Strange 2

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Life Is Strange 2 is a heartbreaking game about community; about how, at the end of everything, we hold onto our loved ones—dead and alive—to keep going forward. It’s focused deeply on loss—not just the earth-shattering physical loss of a loved one, but also the loss of innocence; the loss of a childhood that will never be because it was robbed by adults with too much unchecked power; the loss of a future unaffected by trauma. It’s about peace—about those for whom peacefully navigating society is easier than others; about searching for peace while knowing it can bring turmoil and pain to those you care about; about how we individually define peace, and what we do with the fact that our individual definition of peace may—and often does—differ from those of our loved ones. It’s about anger at the world we live in today—one that feels like it has grown in empathy as much as it has lost it.—Natalie Flores


Metro: Last Light

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The world of Metro never let you forget that you were in a nuclear wasteland. Ammo was currency, and decisions were constantly made between an upgrade or having enough bullets to survive. Weapons were slapped together with shoddy workmanship and your flashlight was a crank tool that often flickers out. Every venture out into the dark underground Russian metro tunnels was dangerous, but human life was forced to stay there due to the ravenous mutated creatures that tormented the surface. Among all this was a story of hope, of a possible future where Artyom and the people of the metro could find peace, and possibly a way to live above again. Expanding on the world introduced in 2033, Last Light was an atmospheric game that never let you forget the light at the end of the tunnel—as long as you didn’t let your light flicker out for too long.—Eric Van Allen


Minecraft

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Progression in Minecraft takes investment, patience, research and a reliance on the knowledge and efforts of others. These are values that modern convenience and modern media have encouraged us to abandon, videogames included. With every quest-line, every arrow pointing the way and every pre-established reward, we grow just a little bit farther outside of ourselves and buy in just a little bit more to the cultural zeitgeist. We’re content with this because we’ve lost the ability to create structure and meaning for ourselves outside of a pre-established system. In Minecraft, we’re finally left alone—a shockingly simple and subversive approach that makes the game both unapproachable and essential.—Richard Clark


Minit

Minit is an adventure with a twist and also a critique of capital split up into tiny bite-sized chunks and told through adorable animals in a sparsely drawn fantasy land. After enough stop and start minutes you’ll realize a factory is running roughshod over this place, polluting the land and working some of its employees to the bone while firing others whose jobs can now be done by machines. Behind it all is a maniacal manager prioritizing productivity over all else. After all these minutes and all these lives the true story reveals itself, and to reach the end you have to collect item after item, life after life, to eventually have the skills necessary to grind the factory to a halt. Even after realizing this it’ll take many minutes and many lives to finish everything you know you need to do, tiny bits of incremental progress in-between passages of rote, mundane, repetitive busy work. If it starts to feel like a job, well, maybe that’s the game’s point. The factory is Minit itself, its employees all of us who play the game, and its dictatorial boss the developers who put us through these paces again and again and again in hopes of the smallest iota of progress. Like the unending and uncaring work shifts that eat up our days until we die, we expend most of our vital energy redoing the same soul-killing nonsense over and over. It is one of the most effective metaphors for the exploitation of the working class seen in videogames. The minutes pass, we experience multiple tiny deaths every day doing the job we’re expected to do. And we press a button, and we do it again.—Garrett Martin


Old Man’s Journey

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Old Man’s Journey is a small, quiet game that you can tell was a work of passion. Sometimes the best way to get someone to listen to you is to whisper. In a just world, this spare kaleidoscope of memories and manipulated hillsides will garner as much attention as bigger games beset with earth-shaking explosions. As we all learn in time, it’s often the smaller chance encounters that make the most impact on us. Especially when we look back.—Jon Irwin


Ori and the Blind Forest

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Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous adventure with an aesthetic that seems vaguely indebted to a variety of world cultures and mythologies. With its focus on forest spirits and a sylvan setting it resembles a Miyazaki film, but there’s no explicit connection to Japanese mythology. It borrows the fundamental feeling of mythic storytelling to depict a basic hero’s journey, with all the loss and personal growth that entails.—Garrett Martin


Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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The brand-new sequel to 2015’s beloved hit has the same beautiful woodland setting and Metroid-style approach to play, but adds enough new mechanics and ideas to make it stand out on its own. It also doubles down on the sense of loss and loneliness and general atmosphere of collapse that gave the first one such an emotional resonance, and has a bittersweet ending that will push even the most hardened cynic to the verge of tears. Play Blind Forest first, then fire this one up.—Garrett Martin


Outer Wilds

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It’d be easy to make Outer Wilds sound like a mash-up of familiar influences. It’s built around a recurring time loop like Majora’s Mask; you’ll fly from planet to planet in real time in search of ancient secrets, as in No Man’s Sky; you’ll explore a variety of eldritch mysteries baked into this solar system, not unlike a new-fangled Myst. Those ideas are implemented in such a unique and seamless way, though, that the total package feels unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It focuses on a race of gentle spacefarers who build rockets out of wood in order to map the other planets that circle their sun and dig up answers on ancient settlers who left wisdom spread throughout the galaxy. The developers have clearly thought long and hard about the alien universe they’ve created, from the specific nature of its physical laws, to the culture of the creatures who populate it. The result is a game that feels appropriately alien, strengthening our desire to unlock its mysteries and explore its culture.—Garrett Martin


Overcooked 2

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The Overcooked games can be a little tough in terms of team work and coordination so you may get better results out of playing them with older family members than you would with children. However, it’s also an opportunity to teach kids (of all ages) how to take directions, pay attention to surroundings and contribute to a group task, all of which can help with social and cooperative skills in real life. Overcooked 2 also has the benefit of being fairly simple to teach; each dish only comes down to a few ingredients that are easy to identify, and once an assertive adult or older child steps in to assign roles in the kitchen, the completion of each recipe can go pretty smoothly. There are also some adorable and funky avatars to choose from that make the game just that much more fun; my 10 year old niece, for example, loves to play as the raccoon or the crocodile.—Holly Green


Oxenfree

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Oxenfree captures the vicissitudes of friendship, especially the heightened passions of teenage friendship. No matter how believable these characters and their relationships can be, though, you might find yourself wanting to get away from them altogether, especially early in the game. Even Alex, the character you control, can occasionally rankle with her petty reactions and annoying humor. In that way, Oxenfree recreates that sense of self-mortification that should be most acute during your teenaged years, and how we’re not always capable of saying what we want to say.—Garrett Martin


Pathologic 2

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Pathologic 2 is a game so perfect in its weirdness and so committed to its hostility that you can’t help but respect it, even as its design makes it almost unplayable. While the game’s refusal to cater to certain conventions is off putting, it uses the player’s confusion and alienation to its advantage, seasoning the game with strong but deliciously bizarre writing that has the lucidity of a dream. It’s the type of game worth suffering through, and I mean that as a compliment. Pathologic 2 isn’t fun, but some games shouldn’t be.—Holly Green


Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

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One of the decade’s biggest surprise hits has an unwieldy name, but there’s a reason for that: “PlayerUnknown” is actually a person, real name Brendan Greene, a well-known modder who created a Day Z mod based on the Japanese novel and movie Battle Royale. Battlegrounds takes that concept of a shooter where the goal is to eliminate every other player on an increasingly dangerous island and turns it into a far more accessible game. The extreme pressure of Battlegrounds elevates the multiplayer shooter to a previously unknown level of tension and catharsis, and spawned the entire battle royale genre that quickly took over all of gaming.—Garrett Martin


Tacoma

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Tacoma might present itself as science fiction. It’s set in a shiny, futuristic space station, with each window a beautiful vista of black and pinpricks of light. But like all good sci-fi, it’s focused squarely on the present. Its depiction of exploitative labor practices and the one-sided relationship between employers and employees, of the marginalization of the worker, might be set near the end of the century, but its message is as current as videogames get.—Garrett Martin


Untitled Goose Game

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House House’s prank simulator hit a level of mainstream pop culture ubiquity rarely seen by videogames, especially ones from companies as small as this one. Much of that had to do with the game’s focus on viral-friendly mischief, but it never would have caught on like it did if it wasn’t a tightly designed, eminently playable exploration of just straight-up messing with people. It’s a sad and depressing fact that being a dick can be really fun, and that’s only amplified when you remove that dickishness from real life and isolate it within the antics of an adorable cartoon goose. My only criticism of the goose game is that the increasingly complex list of actions necessary to complete an objective can feel a bit too much like a chore at times. I’m not in this for work, but for the simple joy of making people hate me. That’s not nearly enough to undermine the brave work of this stalwart goose, though—or keep Untitled Goose Game off this list.—Garrett Martin


Vampyr

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Dontnod’s Vampyr has more in common with Remember Me, the studio’s first game, than Life Is Strange, its commercial and critical breakthrough. Like Remember Me, Vampyr is an ambitious, idiosyncratic oddity that doesn’t quite fit into any recognizable genre. It might not be as slick or smooth as the biggest action games or most popular franchises, but it has more personality and more spirit than most of them. It can feel faintly embarrassing one moment, and then do something unexpected and with surprising confidence just a few seconds later. There’s probably an equal chance that you’ll hate it or love it. In an industry that constantly obsesses on trends and often disrespects the taste and intelligence of its audience, Vampyr is another refreshing and anomalous cult game from Dontnod.—Garrett Martin


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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When I think of my time in Witcher 3, I think mainly of the quest for Ciri, your adoptive daughter. I think of mages with freckles and villagers working fields after you drive away their tormenters. I think of it as a game which says that all we have is each other, as family and friends. As people, whose lives are short but brilliant. As a game that says that what makes life worth living and struggling for isn’t trying for perfection but our common imperfections. It’s aspiration by way of mundanity and I don’t know that I’ve played anything quite like it.—Ian Williams


Yakuza 0

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Yakuza 0’s overarching faithfulness to its era and place in history provides fascinating insight into the time, and its over-the-top cutscenes and climactic fights quickly endeared me to the series. A hefty batch of side-games and engaging, well-paced combat roped me in and sold me on my first ever Yakuza experience, but the vibrancy of its semi-fictional Japan will be what I remember most. Yakuza 0 doubles-down on the series’ signature combination of hyperbolic action and self-aware comedy, while providing an honest window into a major period in recent Japanese history, and does so flawlessly.—Eric Van Allen


Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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