Illustration: Jim Cooke
Xbox Game Pass is one of the best deals in gaming today. For $10 a month, you get access to a Netflix-style library of video games that you can download and play whenever you want. Some marquee games hit the service the same day they’re released, as with Outriders or Rainbow Six Extraction. In other words, it’s no surprise that the subscription claims more than 20 million members.
But as good a deal as Game Pass is, it can also be seriously overwhelming. On console, you’ll find hundreds of titles at your fingertips. Seeing as games are bigger now than ever, you can reasonably only have a handful of Game Pass titles on your console at any given time. So, where should you start?
Below, you’ll find a rundown of the best games currently on Xbox Game Pass. Some ground rules: Don’t expect to see any Microsoft tentpoles here—your Forzas, your Halos, and so on—seeing as, if you have an Xbox you’re probably well aware those games exist and are worth playing. We’re further keeping this list console-only for now. (Members of Xbox Game Pass for PC get access to a similar list that includes most of these games but has some that aren’t available on console.) Of course, games are also periodically added to Game Pass—and periodically leave, too. We will continue to update this list as availability shifts.
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Image: Supergiant Games
A game about Greek gods should make you feel like a god. Hades sure as hell does. The isometric roguelike, developed by Supergiant Games, casts you as Zagreus, son of Hades. Your goal is to escape the land of the dead, fighting your way through the various regions of the Greek afterlife. Along the way, you earn new powers, weapons, and tactics, and quickly get to a point where you’re slicing through the shades of hell like butter. Hades can sometimes be a punishing exercise in repetition, but it never gets old, thanks to a nonlinear narrative that moves forward with every run—whether you live or die. But if Hades is running you through the wringer, there’s a mode (called, literally, “god mode”) that tilts the balance in your favor.
A Good Match For: Fans of roguelikes, action games, mind-bending narrative design, and the bottomless well of intrigue that comprises the Greek mythical canon.
Not A Good Match For: [Information not found.]
Rough Average Playtime: 45.5 hours
Screenshot: Skookum Arts
The Pedestrian, a puzzle-platformer, isn’t so great at its second-billed aspect but absolutely nails the first. You play as one of those little human icons on road signs. Your goal is to make it from one sign to the next, connecting doors, ladders, and other forms of passage to create viable pathways. It may sound simple, but The Pedestrian quickly becomes a deceptively complex puzzle game—one of those that offers minimal instructions, that trusts you fully, that makes you feel like a genius every time you crack a maddening problem. The whole thing is underpinned by a soundtrack straight out of midcentury cinema, ramping up the charm in an already ridiculously charming game.
A Good Match For: Puzzle-game fans who want to get stumped but not too stumped. Street safety advocates.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone seeking Mario-tier precision platforming.
Rough Average Playtime: 4 hours
Screenshot: Mobius Digital
There isn’t a game on the planet like Outer Wilds. You’re best going in completely cold, but if you must know some stuff, here you go: You explore an unusual planetary system where each planet operates under its own set of odd rules. You won’t fire a single bullet. You won’t engage in what’s traditionally known as “combat.” You’ll die a lot, but it’ll rarely feel unfair. You won’t earn any experience points, or unlock any skills, gear, or other bits of tangible progression. Each gameplay session lasts up to 22 minutes, tops, if you don’t first meet an untimely demise. You’re armed with nothing but your own knowledge—the knowledge that even the smallest discovery helps you understand the game more, and that, yes, there’s still a whole lot out there for you to discover.
A Good Match For: Gamers with insatiable curiosity. Tom Cruise fans who wished Edge of Tomorrow was less an action flick and more a soulful meditation on the meaning of existence.
Not A Good Match For: Those who prefer their video games with guns, grenades, or other various violent gadgets. People who can’t deal with a spaceship’s awkward controls.
Rough Average Playtime: 21 hours
Screenshot: Bandai Namco
In Scarlet Nexus, you can use psychokinetic powers to hurl a mid-sized sedan into an interdimensional mushroom zombie. On the basis of its action alone (c’mon, did you just read that prior line?), Scarlet Nexus is worth checking out, but the RPG’s secret sauce is a riveting, consistently astonishing story. Two protagonists—students at a military academy that trains kids to fight, y’know, those mushroom zombies—headline a dual-narrative story that crosses paths at crucial intervals. The twists come fast and furious, and even though it’s not essential to play through both storylines, you’ll have to if you want to see the whole thing. And thankfully, both plots are riveting enough that you will want to.
A Good Match For: Fans of Bandai Namco’s similarly styled Tales series.
Not A Good Match For: People who quickly tire of reused terrain, as the game returns you to certain locations in both storylines.
Rough Average Playtime: 34.5 hours
Screenshot: Witch Beam
Unpacking is a peerlessly moving story packaged in the guise of a puzzle game. You play as an unnamed protagonist moving house at various points in her life—dorm room, starter apartment, first live-in partner, and so on—each rendered as an isometric diorama. Your goal, simply, is to remove objects from boxes and put those objects where they’d typically go (toothbrush in the bathroom, silverware in the kitchen). But those items, taken in totality, tell you what’s going on in her life: the new people, and new problems, that fly into and out of her sphere with every passing stage of life.
A Good Match For: Décor-minded players. Anyone looking for a short, soothing game.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who can’t deal with an ambiguous story. Folks seeking brain-meltingly difficult puzzles; Unpacking isn’t really about that.
Rough Average Playtime: 4 hours
Screenshot: Kitfox Games
Boyfriend Dungeon is exactly what it says on the tin: a dating sim that pulls double-duty as a dungeon-crawler. You can date around half a dozen people, all of whom can transform into weapons of various make—a sword, a spear, brass knuckles, that sort of thing. You then wield those weapons to plumb your way through dungeons where your fears manifest as demonic entities. The more you use a weapon, the greater your bond becomes with their non-weapon form. Boyfriend Dungeon sounds like the sort of game conceived on the back of a bar napkin, but it takes that and runs with it as far as possible.
A Good Match For: Fans of dating sims and dungeon crawlers.
Not A Good Match For: Those looking for a brutally punishing action game; Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t terribly tough or complex.
Rough Average Playtime: 8 hours
The Riftbreaker sounds like a mess of ideas. It combines the top-down action-RPG combat of Diablo with base building and sci-fi exploration. It even tosses in skill trees, crafting, and power management. On paper, this sounds like a hodgepodge of stuff, but The Riftbreaker is actually a very well-made and slick game that effortlessly combines all of these features (and more!) into a hard-to-put-down gem. Also: If you’ve been looking for a new game to play while binging a podcast, check out The Riftbreaker. It’s perfect for that, too.
A Good Match For: Anyone craving a solid RTS with base-building elements. Mechs.
Not A Good Match For: Players hoping for a turn-based mech strategy game, à la Into the Breach.
Rough Average Playtime: 36.5 hours
Screenshot: Square Enix
Octopath Traveler is both a throwback and a revelation. The turn-based role-playing game, developed by Square Enix, harks back to classics of the genre. But visually, it’s a modern masterpiece, sporting the now-minted “2D HD” style that’s defined some modern Square Enix games (Bravely Default 2, Triangle Strategy). The story, which is divided into eight parts among eight primary characters, is a lot to keep track of, but every lead character has their own special ability, resulting in an RPG that’s as consistently engrossing as it is captivating from the jump.
A Good Match For: Players looking for a solid, reliable turn-based RPG to sink their teeth into.
Not A Good Match For: People who don’t want to start a game that can easily take dozens of hours to complete.
Rough Average Playtime: 79.5 hours
Screenshot: Studio Pixel Punk
Unsighted, one of Kotaku’s best games of the year for 2021, is a metroidvania as easy to grasp as it is gratifying. Combat isn’t complex, but it sure is satisfying. Late-dungeon boss fights play out as miniature moments of bullet-hell heaven. Crafting and platforming fill in the blanks. The whole game is driven by a ruthless doomsday clock, which can result in very essential NPCs getting wiped off the map. If there’s ever a game to follow in the heavy footsteps of Majora’s Mask, it’s this.
A Good Match For: Fans of dungeon-crawlers, RPGs, and minimalistic games that do a whole, whole lot with a little.
Not A Good Match For: Those who don’t cope well with pressure.
Rough Average Playtime: 11.5 hours
Play a few third-person shooters, and it can quickly feel like you’ve seen all the genre has to offer. Not so with Control, which upends the standard shoot-duck-sit-shoot formula—chiefly by giving you some formidable psychokinesis powers. Yes, in Control, you can throw heavy shit with your mind. Developed by Remedy Entertainment, Control looks and feels a bit like the studio’s previous game, Quantum Break. But the setting (a shape-shifting brutalist Manhattan skyscraper) and premise (bad evil supernatural stuff gone wrong), plus one of gaming’s awesomest protagonists, are altogether compelling enough to elevate Control into a class of its own.
A Good Match For: Fans of brutalism, streamlined architectural design that prioritizes function over form, and third-person shooters.
Not A Good Match For: Control is tense and scary at moments, so those who eschew horror in all its forms should steer clear.
Rough Average Playtime: 18.5 hours
Screenshot: Motion Twin
Dead Cells does the one thing every roguelike should do—make you feel like a constantly evolving badass—and does it expertly. Your first run might last four minutes, if you’re lucky. Sink a couple hours into the game, and your runs could easily last an hour. After every run, which folds out as a high-velocity side-scrolling jaunt through multiple monster-infested biomes, you’ll unlock new weapons and abilities. Those then cycle into the random drops you’ll receive at the start and in shops, making it so no two runs are alike (well, unless you use the game’s deep customization options). The only constant in Dead Cells is progress. Can’t kill that.
A Good Match For: The folks who hang out at the intersection of Castlevania Street and Rogue Avenue.
Not A Good Match For: Narrative-hungry gamers, as Dead Cells’ occult story is mostly woven in the margins.
Rough Average Playtime: 27.5 hours
Screenshot: Ghost Ship Games
Deep Rock Galactic
If everything is Left For Dead now, then Deep Rock Galactic fully cornered the space angle. A cooperative PvE shooter, you and up to three other friends choose from one of four playable classes and shoot waves upon waves of space bugs. (All of the classes are unique, each coming with different guns that feel terrific to shoot.) It’s largely set in the subterranean chasms of a mining operation, so, while you’re turning said space bugs into pulp, you also have to juggle menial tasks, like mining minerals and such. Hey, we’ve all gotta work, right?
A Good Match For: Everyone who loves that quintessential Left For Dead formula.
Not A Good Match For: Folks playing solo; Deep Rock Galactic is at its best when you’re playing with friends.
Rough Average Playtime: 103 hours
Screenshot: Humble Games
Slay The Spire
The Game Pass library shifts constantly, and it’s all too easy to miss when great games land on the lineup. So, news flash: Slay The Spire, the deck-building roguelike that inspired a thousand deck-building roguelikes, is on Game Pass. Battles are turn-based. With every successful victory, you navigate branching paths to the top of, well, a spire, where you face off against a boss. Each run adds more potential cards to the rotation, allowing you to shake up your strategies over time. You can also work toward unlocking different player characters, each of whom has different perks. Fast-paced roguelikes like Hades no doubt have their charms. But sometimes you want something that slows things down a bit without sacrificing any intensity.
A Good Match For: Those who like trying things over and over again.
Not A Good Match For: Those who don’t.
Rough Average Playtime: 44.5 hours
Screenshot: Asobo Studio
A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Plague Tale: Innocence is not for the faint of heart. Rats, death, war, famine, dead dogs, young children in a ceaseless life-and-death struggle—but if you can stomach it, A Plague Tale’s got all the good stuff. You play as two young children from a royal household on the run from French Inquisition soldiers. A relentlessly challenging stealth game, you’re pretty much done for if you get discovered. No spoilers here, but the story takes some unexpected and viscerally upsetting turns, if you’re into that sort of thing. Earlier this year, it was upgraded for next-gen consoles, and now boasts some eye-popping visuals. A sequel is on the way, planned for a 2022 release.
A Good Match For: Players looking for tense adventure games.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone hungry for a more lenient action game, à la Uncharted.
Rough Average Playtime: 12.5 hours
Screenshot: Team Cherry
You might have heard some jokes about Hollow Knight (that everyone who plays it needs to start over three times before it clicks, that everyone who beats it will breathlessly defend it to the death as the best game of all time). Make no mistake: Quips aside, Hollow Knight is an all-timer 2D Metroidvania. Set in an insectoid kingdom brought to its knees by infection, you play as a silent traveling warrior. It’s a somber, haunting game—and difficult, too. The rank-and-file enemies are tough, the bosses tougher, and exploration is precious, on account of you not initially having a map at the start of each area. (You can find a mapmaker in each zone.)
A Good Match For: Metroidvania purists. Platformer fans. Musicians.
Not A Good Match For: Players who need steady direction, as Hollow Knight’s nonlinear gameplay allows for a whole lot of getting lost.
Rough Average Playtime: 40 hours
From tip to tail, Narita Boy is a love letter to the 1980s: the neon, the synth pop, the references to arcade games, even the bad hairdos. By and large, it’s a slick if mechanically uninspired action platformer. (Jump, dodge, swing sword, shoot gun.) But you’d be hard-pressed to find one with more visual flare. The screen flickers like an old CRT. Pixelated environments pulse with vivid lights. That’s all wrapped in a fascinating mythos, in which technological beings zealously worship their creator as an omniscient god-king. At the start of the game, you’re sucked into this computer world—which, surprise, is on the brink of disaster at the hand of a malevolent jerk—and tasked with saving it.
A Good Match For: Those who like old-school games but wish they’d play as smoothly as new-school games.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a game that radically shakes the table.
Rough Average Playtime: 8.5 hours
Most roguelikes impart the message that failure is fine, that you can try again and again (and again). Not so with UnderMine. Yes, your unlocked equipment and such carries between deaths, but every time you die, that character is dead for good. From the title screen, you can even see a long line of new miners, ready for you to send them to their doom. UnderMine is a competent top-down dungeon-crawling roguelike with some serious Zelda vibes. If that’s your jam, you’ll love it. And if you’re one of those who care deeply about their procedurally generated avatars, you’ll find yourself giving it all you’ve got every run.
A Good Match For: Fans of roguelikes, dungeon crawlings, and older Zelda games.
Not A Good Match For: All those miners.
Rough Average Playtime: 27 hours
Screenshot: Moonlight Kids
The Wild At Heart
The Wild At Heart starts off with a punch to the gut. You play as Wake, a young kid running away from home—and his terminally drunk father. You run into the woods. You get lost. Within seconds, you’re transported to a magical forest realm and yada yada yada evil spirits taking over the real world. On your holy quest of Making Sure That Doesn’t Happen, you’re accompanied by various elemental forest sprites. Much of the gameplay involves tossing the right number and type of sprite at objects. (Ex: To lift a flaming wheel, you’ll need to hurl three fire-based fellas.) Throw these creatures at enemies, and they’ll fight for you. In other words: The Wild At Heart is twee Pikmin.
A Good Match For: You, yeah, you—the person holding your breath for Pikmin 4.
Not A Good Match For: Fans of action-focused, combat-heavy games.
Rough Average Playtime: 15 hours
Screenshot: Ninja Theory
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a solid third-person action game, but that’s not the main draw. The player character, Senua, a fictional Pict warrior who lived in the 900s, suffers from psychosis. Developer Ninja Theory tapped a cadre of mental health experts to properly portray the realities of the condition. You’ll definitely want to play this one with headphones, as Senua experiences auditory hallucinations (“Furies,” per her). The sound design there is unrivaled. That alone is worth giving this one a spin.
A Good Match For: Fans of hack-and-slash, psychological horror, and standard action fare.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who hoped the ballyhooed permadeath feature was actually a permadeath. People who don’t want puzzles in their action games.
Rough Average Playtime: 8 hours
Screenshot: Thunder Lotus Games
Nothing describes Spiritfarer as succinctly as its tagline does: “a cozy management game about dying.” Spiritfarer puts you in the shoes of Stella, a young woman who’s taken over Charon’s famous duties to ferry departed souls into the afterlife. That sounds dark, but all of those lost souls take the form of distinctly personable, irresistibly charming anthropomorphic animals. During their time aboard your ship, yes, as with any other management game, you have to tend to their needs—usually, food—but you can do so on your own schedule. There’s no price for failure. Even Spiritfarer’s resource-hounding mini-games, of which there are many, generally beget some sort of prize. Best of all, you can hug any of your spirit pals if they’re feeling down. It’s impossible to overstate just how nice this is. Throw in some placid watercolor art, some charming animations, and a magical cat and the result is more or less a cashmere throw in video game form. Just heed this one warning: Keep the tissues nearby. Spiritfarer can be heartbreaking.
A Good Match For: Hygge. The over-stressed. Those seeking some peace and quiet.
Not A Good Match For: Those who need their games to be fast-paced and competitive. Anyone expecting an Animal Crossing clone; despite the similarities, Spiritfarer isn’t the type of game you play forever.
Rough Average Playtime: 30.5 hours
Screenshot: Platinum Games
Partway through Nier: Automata, a side character offers you a fish. If you eat the fish, you die—game over. For good. Seriously. The credits roll and everything. Yes, Nier: Automata is a genuinely strange game. There are 26 possible endings, one for each letter of the alphabet. Though you can power through the main story in 10 hours or so, it’s designed to be played multiple times. (Pro tip: Juggle multiple save files. And save often!) Make the wrong move, however, and you might end up wiping all of your save data. That may all sound daunting, but this gem really is worth playing again and again and again. To call this game a third-person action-RPG wouldn’t do it justice. Sure, one-minute, you may be engaged in a traditional third-person beat-’em-up. The next, you might find yourself in a side-scroller. And then, 45 seconds after that, you could be in a top-down Galaga-style shooter. It’s an endlessly creative, always-surprising ride.
A Good Match For: Players craving something both familiar and different.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who needs a game to make sense.
Rough Average Playtime: 37.5 hours
Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:
The Best PC Games • The Best PS4 Games • The Best Games On PS Now • The Best Xbox One Games • The Best Nintendo Switch Games • The Best Wii U Games • The Best 3DS Games • The Best PS Vita Games • The Best Xbox 360 Games • The Best PS3 Games • The Best Wii Games • The Best iPhone Games • The Best iPad Games • The Best Android Games
Update 1/7/2022: We’ve removed Celeste, Desperados III, and Yakuza 0, all of which were leaving or imminently leaving Xbox Game Pass as of this update. The Outer Worlds and Haven were also given the boot. New to list are Hades, The Pedestrian, Unpacking, Unsighted, Boyfriend Dungeon, The Riftbreaker, Scarlet Nexus, and Octopath Traveler, plus the return of Outer Wilds.
Update 7/15/2021: Kotaku regulars will notice a total overhaul. We’ve decided to retool this list to largely focus on smaller games you might gloss over that are nonetheless worth your time. Gone, too, is the longstanding limitation of calling out just 12 games. We’ve also pushed off most of the first-party games you’ve probably already played if you have an Xbox (Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Doom Eternal, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps) and given the boot to Batman: Arkham Knight. Also, Outer Wilds and CrossCode are no longer part of Xbox Game Pass, so they’re no longer part of this piece.
Update 3/10/2021: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Red Dead Redemption 2 clear out for Doom Eternal and Celeste, two games that will kill you more times than you can count.
Update 9/16/2020: Spiritfarer sails onto the list, taking Dishonored 2’s spot—still a great game, just leaving Game Pass at the end of the month.
Update 8/6/2020: Though Life Is Strange 2 is sadly no longer on Game Pass, its departure from our list cleared room for the excellent CrossCode.
Update 5/14/2020: We’ve given Monster Hunter: World and Forza Horizon 4 (both still excellent, both still on Game Pass) the boot to make room for Red Dead Redemption 2 and Nier: Automata.
Update 3/24/2020: We’ve added Yakuza 0 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. They knocked out Quantum Break and Sea of Thieves, both of which are still on Xbox Game Pass (and still fantastic).
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