With over 400 games included, Xbox Game Pass continues to be one of the best deals in gaming. Defining the industry, this year Game Pass pushed Sony to finally capitulate and relaunch PlayStation Now as a competitive service, yet one that still feels a few steps behind. For $10 a month, Game Pass gives you access to a Netflix-style library of video games that you can download and play whenever you want. Until, that is, they’re cruelly taken away, reminding you that you’re always borrowing, never buying.
The scale of the service is pretty daunting at this point, and players can easily end up in that Netflix-like fugue state of browsing but never choosing. We don’t want that for you! So below you’ll find our picks for the game you’ll want to download first, across a broad range of genres.
These are, entirely unscientifically, some of the best games currently on Xbox Game Pass. Some ground rules: We’ve avoided the most brazenly obvious—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. Also, this is a console-only list 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.
2 / 27
High On Life
High On Life
Justin Roiland’s Rick & Morty-like video game looked, for a while, like it might just be obnoxious. It turns out, it’s obnoxious and pretty decent fun. A first-person shooter that mocks the genre at the same time as being guilty of everything it’s mocking, with incessant jibber-jabber from the game’s characters, guns, and probably textures, it’s proving to be enormously popular.
Aliens have invaded Earth, with a plan to smoke human beings like meth, and you are a teen tasked with orchestrating a very stringent drug-prevention strategy: killing them all dead. Things get Metroid-adjacent as new chatty weapons open up new locations in previous areas, in a game that offers solid platforming, if slightly more repetitive combat. Rick & Morty fans will be utterly delighted with its humor, while others might want to tweak the settings to turn down quite how much the game talks at you throughout.
A Good Match For: Fans of Rick & Morty, getting high, and bright colors.
Not A Good Match For: Those of a more delicate sense of humor, or people who just want everyone to shut up.
Unlike so many other movie-related video games, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga isn’t some tiny, rushed cash grab. Instead, it’s one of the best Star Wars games ever made and it’s now available on Game Pass!
Skywalker Saga effortlessly combines all nine mainline films into a massive open-world action-adventure game that is both a treat for Star Wars fans and perfect for kids and families to play together. It features hundreds (not an exaggeration) of puzzles, characters, planets, spaceships, and loads of funny jokes and gags. And it’s received more characters since launch, too. And all of this looks fantastic, with every Lego character and ship covered in details like scratches, dust, and dirt.
Citizen Sleeper is a visual novel that evades many of the pitfalls which normally derail the genre. The writing is very good without being too in love with itself, and the interface for interacting with it is as beautiful and tactile as everything else in the game.
You play as an android who’s escaped their corporate overlords to take up shelter on a backwater space colony. Every choice you make, from what to say, to where to visit, is mediated by dice rolls. Instead of being tedious or gimmicky, the probability mechanic infuses every trade-off with added stakes and meaning, and turns an otherwise intellectually curious and emotionally arresting graphic novel into a revelatory interactive experience.
A Good Match For: Fans of Dungeons & Dragons, Blade Runner, and anyone ready to stake their claim to a brand new life aboard a decaying space station.
Not A Good Match For: People who hate dice rolls and confronting existential dread.
5 / 27
Sci-fi horror Signalis has you playing as an android, stranded on an alien planet, surrounded by gloom, monsters, and death.
With the spirit of the original Resident Evil, combined with the dirty pixels that make such fantastic use of modern lighting, then given the tension of Alien Isolation, this quickly becomes a tense, unsettling science fiction horror, and Luke—who normally avoids horror like the plague—fell deeply in love with it.
This is one of those titles that’s so perfect for Game Pass, the sort of game you might not want to gamble twenty bucks on, but is definitely worth a download to see if it suits your mood.
A Good Match For: Fans of scratchy, carefully paced sci-fi spookiness.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who doesn’t want to feel the creep, creep, creep of tension.
Whoever thought cleaning dirty buildings and playground equipment would become one of our favorite games of 2022? Yet, somehow this most ridiculous of concepts proved to be astonishingly engrossing, letting you engage in the near-mindless task of jet-washing entire houses to remove every scrap of dirt.
Despite presenting itself as a straight-faced X Simulator game, there’s a sense of humor beneath the surface, yet the game never takes its subject anything less than seriously. It just...knows what a weird idea it is, and then gets on at being absolutely brilliant at it.
A Good Match For: People who just need to create some sense of order in a chaotic universe.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone wanting a storyline, or likes living in filth.
This astonishingly beautiful hand-drawn and painted adventure game belies a darker heart. Its storybook presentation and cutesy animal characters might suggest a children’s game, but it certainly is not: this is a fantastic, peculiar tale of a small town in the clutches of a big corporation, with death, mutation, and rude words all on the table.
What makes Beacon Pines so interesting is the way it ends. And ends. And ends. Repeated false endings provide an opportunity to go back through the storybook, and change a key word in the tale, then play out this new version of reality, as young Luka and his friends become embroiled in ancient conspiracies and modern chemical spills.
It’s funny, touching, and occasionally extremely moving, even as its story becomes absolutely bonkers in some of the later branches. A unique approach to storytelling, accompanied by such breathtaking art, makes this an essential grab for as long as it’s on Game Pass.
A Good Match For: Those who love to experience a story, no matter how many different ways.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone with a bad memory for plot details.
Where once there was Innocence, now stands Requiem. While it’s a shame both games aren’t on Game Pass at the same time, the sequel has swapped places with the original, meaning you have the latest release in this rat-infested tale of misery.
Siblings Hugo and Amicia must sneak and battle their way through a Medieval world of rats, spookiness and death, attempting to reach a legendary island that should offer them safety. But most of all, it’s rats. Billions of them, undulating in wretched hordes, squirming and writhing around you. Video games!
Proving one of Ashley’s favorites of 2022, this brings along everything from the original, but then takes it to far greater extremes, both physically and emotionally.
A Good Match For: Those looking for an emotionally charged and visceral experience.
Tunic initially presents itself as a standard dungeon crawler, but that’s simply a mask for what’s underneath: one of the most reality-bending, reality-questioning puzzle games of the modern era. Most of the text is done up in an indecipherable runic language. As you navigate Tunic’s isometric spaces, you slowly reassemble an in-game instruction manual—stylized wonderfully after the old-school printed manuals of NES games—each page answering one question with three more. You never fully know what’s going on, but you can never shake the persistent sense that, yes, there is more to Tunic than what it lets on, a fount of possibility waiting to be found. Also: tiny fox.
A Good Match For: Fans of Fez, Zelda, and soulslikes. Anyone who wants to question everything they’ve ever known about how video games work.
Not A Good Match For: Those who run to Google at the first instance of a roadblock.
What Skate did for skateboarding, Shredders does for snowboarding. Bucking the patent ridiculousness of traditional winter action sports games, like Riders Republic or SSX, Shredders is a bit more grounded. A dual-thumbstick control scheme, which is easy to pick up but hard to master, lets you control your board with pitch-perfect precision. Rather than so-called “future spins” (where the total degrees you rotate is a number greater than the current year), you’re more likely to pull off smooth rotations and calculated flips, smaller tricks that focus more on looking stylish than on making the numbers go up. Shredders set out to accomplish one goal—nailing the chill vibes of a bluebird day on the slopes—and stomps it.
A Good Match For: Anyone who played Skate but spent time in the big skate parks, trying desperately to huck a spin bigger than 720º.
Not A Good Match For: Players who love high scores, long combos, and spinning like a top.
Rough Average Playtime:5.5 hours, not accounting for the time you spend messing around after beating the story.
11 / 27
Death’s Door, an isometric action game about the afterlife, doesn’t have a pixel out of place. You play as a crow, a rank-and-file agent at an agency responsible for shepherding souls to their rightful place after death. Combat is tough, sure, but fine-tuned to the degree that you know every failure is your fault. Boss fights are relentless, demanding you memorize patterns, dust yourself off, and try again (and again). Inventive dungeons unfold slowly, revealing themselves as intricate, complex mazes. Death’s Door is additionally anchored by some sharp writing, with a poignant yet humorous take on life, death, and everything in between.
A Good Match For: Fans of dungeon-crawlers and action games. People who had M.C. Escher posters in their dorm rooms.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for the easy way out—Death’s Door offers up quite the challenge.
Lost in Random, one of the surprise under-the-radar gems of 2021, marries genres with astonishing ease. Real-time action is broken up by moments of turn-based combat, which features elements of deck-building games. As you play, you’ll find cards—a sword, a bow, a spell—which you can use to customize a deck. Then when fighting, you can freeze combat and play a card, temporarily granting you the given card’s implement of destruction, resulting in unpredictable twists in each battle. It’s a delightful concoction of both moment-to-moment tactics and long-term strategy. Lost in Random is done up in an enchanting animation style inspired directly by the gothic, moody oeuvre of film director Tim Burton, in service of a similarly Burton-esque fairy tale narrative.
A Good Match For: Anyone who watched Coraline and thought, “That should be a game.”
Not A Good Match For: Impatient players, as Lost in Random has a bit of a slow start.
If you like constant progression, you’ll love Nobody Saves the World. The top-down RPG casts you as a wizard with some impressive shapeshifting abilities. At first, you only have access to basic forms—a ranger, a soldier—before unlocking more interesting ones, like a mermaid, a zombie, a ghost, even a freakin’ dragon. Every form has its own set of battle pass-style challenges (“kill X number of Y enemies with Z spell”), all of which grant you XP, which unlocks new forms, each with their own new set of challenges. Nobody Saves the World is a rip-roaring cycle of constantly watching numbers go up but without the microtransaction baggage typically affiliated with such cycles.
A Good Match For: Folks pining for the distinctly offbeat, circa-2012 era of indie games.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a solid co-op game; though Nobody Saves the World technically features co-op, it’s pretty barebones.
Far: Changing Tides is a lonely game. The side-scrolling puzzle-platformer opens cold, with your character, silent and nameless, underwater. The planet appears to have been swamped by an apocalyptic flood of indeterminate origin. You surface. You make your way across the rooftops of submerged midrises. Then you find a steampunk sailboat, and piloting it along the shore (mostly) comprises the bulk of the game. Through the rote but pleasing acts of manipulating sails and winds, or churning up fuel for an engine, you commit to the timeless video game quest of heading toward the right side of the screen, whatever’s out there. Surprisingly deft environmental puzzles punctuate your travels, and the result is a metaphorical game that says a lot without actually saying a word.
A Good Match For: Fans of Limbo and Inside, and other games of that ilk.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a high-energy, heart-pumping side-scroller.
This Southern Gothic point-and-click adventure might be PC-only, but its presence on the non-console Game Pass is significant enough to break all our rules. Following your mother’s death, you return to your hometown of Norco, trying to find your missing brother amidst a magical realist rendition of 21st-century South Louisiana. Norco is a real town on the outskirts of New Orleans, built around the oil refineries on the banks of the Mississippi. In the game, this industrial swamp is given a bleak sci-fi coat of paint, a world where robots exist but are barely used, where everything is run down, where the possibilities of technology are abandoned, ruined. Extraordinarily good writing elevates Norco above the crowd, while its spectacular pixel art evocatively renders the ambiguous view of hope in its overarching tale.
A Good Match For: People looking for a gut punch of a narrative.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who hates point-and-click games.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Update 12/20/2022:Hades, Boyfriend Dungeon, Unsighted, A Plague Tale: Innocence, and Narita Boy have all left Game Pass, so they’ve also left our list. Added on are High On Life, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, Citizen Sleeper, PowerWash Simulator, Signalis, and Beacon Pines.
Update 4/13/2022:Nier: Automata and Control are no longer available, so we’ve removed them. The Wild at Heart and UnderMine, both fantastic and still currently available, clear way for Shredders, Tunic, Death’s Door, Lost in Random, Far: Changing Tides, and Norco (the first PC-only game to merit inclusion).
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).