An absolute steal, starting at just £7.99 a month (and a piffling £1 for the first month), Xbox Game Pass is essentially Microsoft’s video game version of Netflix: you get access to scores of Xbox and/or PC titles for a flat subscription fee.
With hundreds of titles on offer deciding what to download first can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Dozens of new titles have been added only recently, thanks to the addition of EA Play and almost the entire Bethesda library. Do you go with a GPU-straining triple-A blockbuster or opt for an innovative indie title? We’ve picked our must-play favourites from the available selection to get you started.
Forza Horizon 4 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Arguably the best racing game ever committed to code, the fourth Forza Horizon game should be one of your first Game Pass downloads, even if you have absolutely no interest in cars. Unlike its ever-so-slightly po-faced sister series, Forza Motorsport, the Horizon games expertly marry perfectly-tuned driving with arcade thrills in a massive open world, where you can race other drivers, try to beat your own best times, and become a stuntman on the side. And in Horizon 4, you get to explore the best of Britain’s rolling hills, historic cities and torrential rain. Simply put, until you’ve ripped it through the Lake District in a garishly decorated Ferrari, terrifying flocks of sheep as you drift around corners, you’re missing out on the best Xbox and PC gaming has to offer.
Yakuza 0 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Sega’s wonderfully idiosyncratic action-adventure crime series has only recently become a big hit in the West, and somewhat overwhelmingly, every game in the series up to the most recent entry, Like a Dragon, is now available to play on Game Pass. The best place to start is undoubtedly Yakuza 0. While not the first game in the long-running Japanese series, it’s a prequel, so serves as the perfect introduction to protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and the games’ fictionalised recreations of Tokyo neighbourhoods. From the story - an always unpredictable soap opera that somehow endears you to a host of violent gangsters - to the moreish beat ‘em up combat and truly bizarre side quests that we refuse to spoil, there’s nothing else like the Yakuza games, and you owe it to yourself to at least give them a try.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Sometimes, less is more. In Lonely Mountains: Downhill, there’s no soundtrack, there are no opponents to race, and no pyrotechnics to admire as you cross the finish line. It’s just you, your mountain bike, the occasional chorus of bird sound, and a series of masterfully designed mountain ranges to tackle. To unlock new gear and harder tracks, you will need to ride fast and purposefully in Lonely Mountains, but the game is at its best when you’re taking things at your own pace, admiring the gorgeous low-poly graphics and deliberate absence of, well, most things. Here it becomes an almost meditative experience. This is a game about enjoying the tranquility of nature, something everyone has come to appreciate in recent times, and it’s probably the most relaxing experience you’ll find on Game Pass - even if you are smashing into a fair amount of trees.
Dishonored Definitive Edition and Dishonored 2 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Cheating a bit, we know, but both Dishonored games are utterly fantastic and neither sold as well as they deserved to, so we’ll fight anyone that objects. A lot of games champion freedom in how you approach your objective, but rarely is this freedom as well realised as in this first-person stealth action series. Do you charge around murdering everyone in sight with an array of specialised weaponry, or sneak about in the shadows so nobody knows you were there? Either approach is welcome, and no matter your playstyle, it’s impossible not to appreciate Arkane’s ingenious level design and steampunk worldbuilding. The second game arguably sees Arkane at the peak of its powers, but the original is still as fun to play today as it was in 2012. And with the studio’s next game, Deathloop, just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get stabbing.
Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developed not by publisher Bethesda (who made Fallout 3) but third-party developer Obsidian, New Vegas feels much closer in tone to the original 2D Fallout games – and it’s all the better for it.
Plunged into a post-apocalyptic Southwestern US, the player becomes embroiled in a three-way power struggle between opposing factions, but is pretty much left alone to explore the world – which, yes, includes the revitalised city of Las Vegas – at their own pace, advancing the story as they see fit and making choices which feel like they matter. Graphically and mechanically it might be showing its age now, but if you’re going to delve into a Fallout game from the franchise’s second gen, we think it should be this one.
Octopath Traveler (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Previously only available on PC, Stadia and Switch, Square Enix’s celebrated Japanese RPG is now downloadable on all Game Pass platforms. With a gorgeous art style that folds the old-school pixel art look of beloved past JRPGs into a lush 3D world, Octopath Traveler is an unrepentant revival of 1990s era SquareSoft classics: the dialogue is mostly text-based, the exploration is real-time and the combat is turn-based.
Following the intermingling stories of eight heroes as they adventure through the land of Orsterra, the game’s involving battles, world exploration and character progression drive it along at a fair clip – although many may find the dialogue and plotlines repetitive and hackneyed.
What Remains of Edith Finch (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Short enough to play through in a single sitting, this brisk interactive adventure is perfect fodder for a spare evening. Playing as the last surviving member of a family that may or may not be cursed, you explore a strange, labyrinthine old house, periodically jumping into the skins of your deceased relatives to experience their (usually untimely) demises first-hand. If it sounds morbid and creepy, the surprising thing it that it doesn’t really feel that way – but if you’re looking for a grown-up game that doesn’t shy away from such complexities, why not download it and find out for yourself?
Outer Wilds (Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
To reveal too much about this glorious space exploration adventure would risk ruining an experience driven by new discoveries. Suffice it to say Outer Wilds casts you as a newly qualified astronaut, about to embark on their first mission. Your local solar system is an open world, your easy-to-fly rocket ship your ticket to any of its miniaturised but highly distinct heavenly bodies, and your schedule is your own – but beware that you’re on something of a tight timeline.
Wonder, beauty, tragedy and a whole gamut of emotions await you in a compelling, self-driven tale that’s one of those surprisingly rare things among video game stories: one that could only be told effectively using video game mechanics.
Sea of Thieves (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Assemble a crew of your mates and venture out into a fantastical world of sea monsters, skeletal pirates, buried treasure and some of the most beautiful sunsets ever seen on a screen in this diverting cross-platform MMO. Striking a balance between relaxing, casual fun and involving action, Sea of Thieves is perhaps the perfect title for our current times: when we’re mostly stuck at home, unable to socialise, games like this really come into their own – especially if you can find a regular group to team up with.
Wasteland 3 (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
The spirit of the original two Fallout games lives on in this enjoyably challenging tactical RPG, which sees you leading a squad of United States Rangers in a post-apocalyptic Colorado. Packed with meaningful choices and benefitting from a rewarding turn-based combat system, Wasteland 3 will see you undertake an epic journey of exploration as you hunt down miscreants in the wilds, all while building up your own base of operations and interacting with a huge cast of well-written characters.
Crusader Kings III (PC)
The long-awaited third entry in Paradox Interactive’s medieval ruler simulator is polished and feature-rich right out of the gate. Paradox has constructed a giant sandbox that runs from Iceland to India, allowing players to dive into the boots of pretty much any count, duke, king or emperor they choose, steering that person’s dynasty through the ages.
When your ruler dies, the game doesn’t end: you instead take control of their dynastic heir, shaping their rule through warfare, diplomacy, intrigue and more. Want your dynasty to rise from a lowly earl to the throne of England? Conquer Iberia as a Muslim warlord? Carve out your own fiefdom in the Holy Land? Or simply seduce your way around the court of your liege, littering the kingdom with your bastard offspring? It’s all possible, and it’s brilliantly engaging.
Microsoft Flight Simulator (PC)
The latest in a series of “games” Microsoft started almost 40 years ago, 2020’s edition of Flight Simulator is a technical marvel. Tapping into Bing’s vast vault of map data and some clever terrain algorithms, this version essentially allows you to fly to any point on the globe. Some places look more detailed and convincing than others, true – but the ability to spot your neighbourhood from high up in the air (where you’ll hopefully be) is undeniably appealing. The downside to all this is data: the base game is a huge 120GB install, and much of the map data will need to be downloaded prior to each flight, which means a superfast broadband connection is pretty much a must-have.
The flight simulator itself is reassuringly flexible and granular. If you want to go all-in, you can set it to ultra-realistic and spend ages prepping for flights, tweaking each individual setting and enjoying what seems like the ultimate in cockpit recreation. Alternatively, set everything to the simplest mode and it becomes more akin to an arcade game, with the bulk of operations taken over by the AI.
Spiritfarer (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
How do you make a management game more interesting and emotion-driven? You populate it with cute, well-written characters and make it about death, that’s how! This beautiful indie game casts you as the titular Spiritfarer, the person charged with the task of carrying the souls of the recently departed into the afterlife. You do so on your boat, which can be kitted out with various facilities to help keep your ghostly passengers happy. You’ll explore the seas, land on islands to buy and sell gear and harvest raw materials and improve your vessel as you go, but eventually you’ll have to drop your new friends off – and saying goodbye might be the most challenging part of this charming, wonderful game.