Currently an absolute steal at just £3.99 a month (and a piffling £1 for the first month), Xbox Game Pass for PC is Microsoft’s video game version of Netflix: you get access to dozens of PC titles for a flat subscription fee.
With over 100 games on offer, deciding what to download first can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Do you go with a GPU-straining triple-A blockbuster or opt for an innovative indie title? We’ve picked some must-play favourites out of the available selection to get you started.
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
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.
Tell Me Why
Dontnod Entertainment revisits familiar ground with its new graphic adventure game, which is exclusive to Xbox and Windows. Tell Me Why works on a lot of the same principles as Life Is Strange: it’s an emotionally charged, small town-set episodic story that plays with the concept of time and memory. But while the formula may be recognisable, the game feels anything but tired.
Here you control twins Alyson and Tyler Ronan, reunited in their childhood Alaska hometown after a decade apart. The pair must revisit the horrifying events that led to their separation, seeking to uncover the clouded truth – even if it strains their own relationship. Tyler is the first transgender lead character in a major videogame, and the game’s sensitive portrayal of the trans experience is notable in and of itself – but this is first and foremost an involving and well-written mystery yarn.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
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.
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.
Already something of a classic on its original platform of the Nintendo Switch, The Touryst has now brought its retina-searingly colour-rich graphics and old-school open-world platform adventure approach to the PC.
Taking on the role of a tourist (well, duh) holidaying on an atoll of real world-inspired islands, you’ll hop from landmass to landmass exploring ancient ruins and interacting with both the locals and fellow travellers. It’s part Mario Bros., part Zelda, and full of charm.
This fast-paced 2D platformer forces you to restart the entire game every time you die. If Dead Cells sounds challenging, it is – but thanks to its finely-honed roguelike mechanics each foray you make into the game’s dark and mysterious fortress is different, and each one goes towards unlocking new gear and abilities that will aid you in future runs. The tight controls, procedurally generated levels, satisfying combat and straightforward presentation make it a joy to play, and you’ll be girding your loins for “just one more go” mere moments after your current run comes to an ignominious end.
A mind-bending first-person interactive adventure set on a seemingly deserted space station in the aftermath of some unknown event, Observation casts the player as SAM, the ship’s AI system. While you may not possess a physical body capable of moving around the claustrophobic, almost photo-realistic confines of the station, you do have the ability to observe events via its CCTV cameras and control certain ship functions.
This coldly intriguing sci-fi mystery gets its hooks into you fairly quickly, and on an all-you-can-eat service like Game Pass its fairly tight running time feels like a bonus rather than a value issue. Highly recommended for anyone who likes head-scratching and big ideas.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The idea of escaping to a fantasy land of endearing forest spirits and amiable furry friends is pretty damn appealing right now, which is why you’ve probably already bought and played the hell out of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
An alternative well worth considering is Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a 2.5D platformer that casts you as the eponymous Ori, a sprite set adrift far from home, seeking a lost friend and a way to restore balance to a woodland beset by vicious beasts and bugs. If it sounds cutesy as hell, it’s actually a demanding Metroidvania-style experience with a beautifully realised interconnected world and much more of an emphasis on tight, tough combat than its predecessor Ori and the Blind Forest (also on Game Pass, and also well worth playing). All in all, it’s a rewarding adventure that’ll give you some merciful respite from real-world goings-on.
This first-person survival horror adventure puts you on a decrepit space station populated by a handful of sane survivors, several more murderous ne’er-do-wells, dozens of dead-eyed androids (also murderous) and one perfect killing machine. It’s a recipe for scares all right.
For our money the best on-screen depiction of the film series’ xenomorph menace since the 1980s, this beast stalks you through the stations corridors and ducts, making any journey a fraught cat-and-mouse game that’ll have you hiding in lockers, ducking under desks and attempting improvised distractions in order to avoid having your insides ripped out. If it’s tension and atmosphere you’re looking for, look no further.
A new Gears game in more ways than one, this latest foray into the world of COG and the Locust menace is a long way from the series’ standard third-person action-fests. Gears Tactics is instead a turn-based strategy game in the mould of XCOM, in which you control a small team of soldiers in increasingly challenging tactical battles.
Levelling up your squad members to unlock new abilities is as important to victory here as flanking, overwatch shooting and proper use of cover – but Gears staples like brutal executions make this feel thematically similar to the action titles. A surprisingly involving addition to one of Microsoft’s longest-running franchises, and a must-play for fans of turn-based strategy.