Thanks to the advent of digital online distribution, the world has access to more of everything compared to 20 years ago. Whether you’re talking music, movies, TV shows or books, the selection is overwhelming. But this is especially true for video games, which have benefitted more from this shift in shopping than any other medium.
Gone are the days of having to hit up small, specialty game shops to track down that obscure game you’ve been obsessing over, and instead you can just load up the online store on your console of choice and have access to any game you desire. But unlike other forms of entertainment, the price of games are high, and subscription services are nowhere to be found.
Well, they weren’t until Microsoft came along and gave us Xbox Game Pass, which is maybe the best value in video games right now.
What Is Xbox Game Pass?
Xbox Game Pass is a monthly, all-you-can-eat video game subscription service that lets you pay a monthly fee and download all of the available games you want (and there are nearly 400 of them). As long as you’re an active subscriber, you will have access to these games for as long as they’re available on the service.
Like Netflix or HBO Max, certain games will leave at the end of each month, but there will also be a new crop of games that are available to play, keeping things fresh for longtime subscribers. Most recently, Microsoft has added games such as Madden ’21, the indie RPG Undertale, and 20 games from its recent acquisition Bethesda Studios which includes games from the DOOM, Fallout, Elder Scrolls and Wolfenstein franchises.
Plans start at $9.99 a month, which will get you access to as many games as you want on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S consoles, or on PC (but not both). However, if you opt for the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you’ll not only be able to play on both platforms, but you’ll also get access to Xbox Live Gold, which allows you play against people online, as well as the ability to stream games from the cloud to your phone via xCloud.
While the bulk of the games are a few years old, or are smaller indie titles, there are also some very recent blockbuster releases here. So whether you’re trying to save a few bucks on that new game you can’t quite afford, or you’re looking for an affordable way to stay up on smaller indie games, there is plenty here to keep you entertained.
But there are new games that come to (and unfortunately leave) the service every month which helps to keep Xbox Game Pass fresh.
What’s New on Xbox Game Pass
Since the start of 2021, we’ve seen a number of notable games make their way onto the Xbox Game Pass list, continuing the service’s run of quality monthly refreshes. Here’s what happened most recently:
When Microsoft acquired development studio Bethesda in 2020, everyone knew that Microsoft had big plans for the catalog of games, which includes Doom, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls and more. Microsoft finally put its foot on the gas in March and made 20 Bethesda games available on Xbox. These include:
- DOOM 1-3: These are the games that set the standard for first person shooters, and now the original DOOM Trilogy is now available on Xbox Game Pass. It should be little surprise that they’re still as fun now as they were 30 years ago.
- Fallout New Vegas: While Fallout 3 helped to rewrite the book on what an RPG can look like and play like, Fallout: New Vegas took that formula and refined it to near perfection. The best installment of the Fallout series, you do the same thing you do in every title, which is explore a post-apocalyptic wasteland as you try to survive (and find other survivors).
- Wolfenstein Youngblood: Taking place 19 years after the events of Wolfenstein II, you play as BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters and have the ability to link up with a friend in co-op gameplay that rewards complimentary playstyles.
- Undertale: One of the best and most beloved indie RPGs ever made, Toby Fox’s Earthbound-inspired masterpiece is now available on Xbox Game Pass. After falling into the underworld, you must make your way back to the surface, and must decide whether you will fight your way back or find other, more peaceful means.
- Project Octopath: Originally a Switch exclusive, this Square Enix title is a love letter to the company’s 2D RPGs from days past. In Project Octopath, you follow the story arcs of 8 different characters who cross paths with one another at various points. Of course it wouldn’t be a Square Enix RPG without a traditional urn-based battle system, but even with the retro treatment, the combat manages to break new ground for RPGs.
January and February
- Madden 21 (Arrives 3/2): The latest iteration of EA’s legendary Football franchise makes an appearance on Xbox Game Pass. While Madden 20 was also featured on Game Pass, it did not arrive this soon after its initial release.
- Donut Country: One of the most acclaimed indie puzzlers of the last five years, you are tasked with making objects disappear from sight by controlling a movable and increasingly large sinkhole. Think of it as Katamari Damacy in reverse.
- Yakuza Remastered Collection: Remastered versions of the third, fourth and fifth mainline installments of the action-adventure series will let you explore Japan’s underworld in 1080p and 60 frames per second.The Yakuza action-adventure franchise has been consistently solid since debuted in 2005, and has grown to become a premier franchise in recent years. The Yakuza Remastered Collection, which rounds up graphically updated versions of Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, will let you explore Japan’s underworld for the price of an Xbox Game Pass Subscription.
- Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age: Regarded as one of the very best Final Fantasy installments, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age replaces the departing Final Fantasy XV, offering fans a different flavor of the iconic RPG franchise.
- Dirt 5: Racing games aren’t as plentiful as they once were in the ‘90s and ‘00s, but for those who played Forza Horizon 4 until the wheels fell off, Dirt 5 is here with some fast-paced, arcade-inspired rally racing that will help to fill the void.
What’s Gone on Xbox Game Pass
Nothing lasts forever, and every month a handful of games must say farewell. Here are a handful of notable games that have left Xbox Game Pass in recent months
- FTL: Faster Than Light
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Journey to the Savage Planet
- My Friend Pedro
- Final Fantasy XV
- Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet
- Tekken 7
But despite these losses, there are still so, so many good games to choose from on Xbox Game Pass. Take a look at 10 of our must-play games from Xbox Game Pass below.
The 10 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass (Updated February 2021)
Madden NFL 21
Admittedly, EA’s Madden franchise has been in cruise control for (at least) the last few years. But even still, there are few games that are as fun to pick up and play with a friend, even if you haven’t played a down in 10 years. While there might not be much new about Madden NFL 21 aside from roster changes, not having to pay $60 for a standalone copy of the game leaves less of a sour taste in the mouth.
Also, nothing can replace the joy of being a massive troll and converting a 4th and 20 when you’re down 2 and there are 3 minutes left to play.
DOOM has always been known for it’s fast-paced, over-the-top, technically brilliant gameplay that borders on absurdity, and 2020’s DOOM Eternal is no exception. Just like the franchise always has, this first-person shooter has you ripping through swaths of enemies with a wide array of weapons as a death metal soundtrack blares in the background. Learning how to best attack a map is the name of the game here, and it will take you run after run to expertly clear the stage, but that’s where the fun of DOOM lies.
The Witcher III
OK, so Cyberpunk 2077 might have come out of the oven not fully baked and infuriated a whole bunch of people, but CD Projekt Red’s previous title, The Witcher III, is still amazing and worth the 100+ hours you will dump into it as you roam the medieval lands as the monster hunter Geralt, who is searching for his missing daughter. Following its release in 2015, this game ended up on virtually every “end of year” list and took home a number of awards, including Game of the Year from The Game Awards. This version also includes the two subsequent expansions that were released, Hearts of Stone and Blood of Wine, which means you’ll have no shortage of things to do once you complete the main quest.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Along With the MMO-driven gameplay of Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII represented a fundamental break from the turn-based gameplay of previous entries. Instead, what players got was a real-time battle system, effectively turning Final Fantasy into an action RPG franchise. And with the exception of Final Fantasy XIV (which returned to the MMORPG format), the series has never looked back. If you’ve never had a chance to play Final Fantasy XII, its inclusion alone on Xbox Game Pass makes the subscription fee worth it.
Outer Wilds was not only one of the best games of 2019, but it also is one of the most unique games on this list. In this roguelite action-adventure game, you leave your home planet on a quest to go explore the mysteries of the planets around you, except there’s a catch: every 22 minutes, time resets and throws you in a Groundhog Day scenario where you venture out into space, It feels like a game that mixes the time mechanics of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with the gameplay of Metroid Prime, except there’s no fighting. Just quiet, low-key exploration that somehow manages to keep you on edge as you try to beat the clock and unlock new parts of the game.
Dragon Quest XI S : Echoes of an Elusive Age
One of the most beloved RPG series in Japan, the Dragon Quest franchise reached a new level of recognition in the US with the release of Dragon Quest XI over the past few years. Originally released on the Nintendo 3DS, and later remastered for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch, this is one of the best and biggest installments yet, set in a sprawling world full of intricately-designed environments to explore and an epic story where you and a crew of friends and allies work to eradicate evil from the land. And for the nostalgic gamers among us, there’s a mode that lets you switch to a retro-inspired 2D look to make you feel like you’re back in 1994.
Forza Horizon 4
Racing games might not be as popular as they once were, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great ones being produced. The Microsoft-developed Forza Horizon 4 is still one of the most visually beautiful games ever made for the Xbox One, with environments and lighting effects that make you feel like you’re looking at the real world. But when you combine that with amazing gameplay, endlessly customizable cars and an open-world approach to progressing through the game, it’s easily still one of the best games you can play on Xbox One Game Pass.
Monster Hunter: World
Monster Hunter has always had something of a cult following over the years, but it was the 2017 release of Monster Hunter: World that really put the franchise on the map (as evidenced by the fact that a live-action film is on the way in 2021). Much as the title suggests, this game is all about tracking down large, mythical beasts, and whether you’re running solo or working with others online, your job is to bring them down. But while Monster Hunter games are simple in concept, this game is about more than just spamming the attack button. You must prepare ahead of time with the correct items and load-outs, level up your character through training, and devise a strategy to take out the monster once you actually find it.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
If the last generation of gaming confirmed anything, it’s that there’s still room for invention and innovation when it comes to 2D platformers. Ori and the Will of the Wisps may have a whimsical look, but this Metroidvania combines hard-as-nails platforming with customizable load-outs that will keep you engaged as you explore the hub worlds and engage in epic boss battles as its excellent story unfolds.
Tetris Effect: Connected
Just when you start to think that everything that could possibly be done with Tetris has been done, a new spin on the game pops up that forces you to reconsider that stance. Tetris Effect: Connected is one of those games, and its psychedelic approach to the puzzle franchise not only breathes new life into a game that has been around since 1985 but stands out as one of the best iterations yet. As you clear line after line, the visuals progressively melt in time with the music, producing a euphoric light show that’s meant to evoke an experience similar to synesthesia. Naturally, words can’t do it justice, but with Xbox Live Game Pass, you can try it out for yourself, and play online with (or against) others for the mere cost of a monthly subscription.