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The best games on Xbox Game Pass for 2021

Xbox Game Pass is the best deal in gaming, offering hundreds of games across Xbox, PC, and mobile. Unlike PlayStation Now, which has a little too much filler, Microsoft is continually trimming the fat on Game Pass. From the biggest AAA games to indie hits, Game Pass has a game for everyone. And with the launch of Xbox Series X, Microsoft has continued to bolster the service. With over 300 titles available, here are the best games on Xbox Game Pass.

We tailored our list to Xbox, so we didn’t include games like Age of Empires 2 and Microsoft Flight Simulator that are exclusive to Game Pass for PC. However, many titles are available across Xbox and PC, and some of them even support cross-save. Most of the games are available for streaming on mobile, too, as long as you have Game Pass Ultimate.

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Action

Control

Remedy Entertainment — the studio behind Quantum Break and Alan Wake — has built upon the same narrative-driven action structure that’s defined the studio’s games since Max Payne. And Control is the perfect culmination of that structure. It’s a tight action game with platforming and puzzle elements, all set to the backdrop of a government conspiracy (a la Stranger Things). Control isn’t a perfect game, but it balances so many elements so well — action, shooting, and Metroidvania-like exploration.

You play as Jesse Faden just moments after she arrives at The Oldest House, a drab government building that houses the Federal Bureau of Control. After a relatively somber — though, nevertheless creepy — intro, Control starts morphing. The Oldest House itself starts changing, emboldened by something from another world. From there, it’s your job to uncover the secrets hidden in the depths of The Oldest House. And there’s a lot to find.

Read our Control review

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

The list of the best Star Wars games is remarkably small, despite the fact that games bearing the name have been releasing for decades. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order stands apart, though. It’s the first Star Wars game in a long time that’s concerned with being a good game, not just a licensed one. The result is a game that’s thoroughly enjoyable for those who couldn’t care less about Star Wars, but with enough fan service to keep franchise fans hooked.

When it comes to gameplay, Fallen Order is like Dark Souls light. It has tight swordplay, with tuned parrying and dodging mechanics. However, it’s clear Fallen Order‘s difficulty was tuned against the mainstream video game market, not against solely Dark Souls. Because of that, Fallen Order is an enjoyable romp for Souls-like fans while being accessible to genre newcomers.

Read our Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review

Nier: Automata

Platinum Games, the same studio behind Bayonetta and Astral Chain, has a long history of making flashy, over-the-top action games. Nier: Automata, however, is the studio’s magnum opus. Featuring the same frantic combat as the studio’s previous games, Nier: Automata goes a step further with an engrossing story, a beautiful setting, and multiple endings.

If the post-apocalyptic world and robot deities aren’t enough to hook you, then the combat will. Nier: Automata makes you feel like a badass, slicing through robots with ease while your drone fighter backs you up. Combat encounters are comically intense, making the moment-to-moment gameplay deeply satisfying.

Read our Nier: Automata review

Adventure

Call of the Sea

Call of the Sea is an unassuming game about exploring an island, and an excellent debut for the aptly named Out of the Blue Games. Set in the 1930s, you play as Norah Everhart as she explores a mysterious island looking for her lost husband. And from the opening moments of the game, that looks like all Call of the Sea has to offer.

The game toys with your expectations, though. What starts as a bright, colorful puzzler turns into something much darker, as the secrets of the island you’re on (and why your husband was there) start to reveal themselves. Call of the Sea is a very short game (around five hours, and much less with a guide), so we’ll leave the narrative description at that. Although the puzzle design is great, the game really hinges on revealing its secrets to you, so we recommend diving in blind if possible.

The Medium

After 2019’s disappointing Blair Witch, horror developer Bloober Team has bounced back with The Medium. You play as Marianne, a medium (go figure) sent to an abandoned communist resort to uncover mysteries only a medium can uncover. As you play the game, you’ll pass back and forth between the real world and spirit world to solve puzzles, explore, and plunge further into the depths of the resort you’re exploring.

Although The Medium isn’t the first horror game from Bloober Team, it’s the first third-person horror game that the studio has made. Even though you don’t experience the scares through Marianne’s eyes, The Medium still holds its own against the best horror games. A clear nod to old Resident Evil titles, The Medium uses fixed (-ish, the camera has some cinematic movement as you play, which is expertly executed) to tell its story. That makes The Medium feel like a horror movie, with just enough mechanics to also feel like a proper game.

Read our The Medium review

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds is a game you really shouldn’t know anything about. Focused entirely on exploration and discovery, Outer Wilds provides an open-world mystery with the only solution being to continue looking. Even a short synopsis could be considered a spoiler, so stop reading this section if you want to go in fresh.

Simply put, you play as an Astronaut who’s a member of the Outer Wilds Space Program. After 22 minutes of in-game time, the sun will explode into a supernova, ending the game. You’ll restart right away — with the same, 22-minute time limit — allowing you to explore the solar system and unravel the mysteries that lurk around you.

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky

It’s been four years since No Man’s Sky hit the PlayStation 4 and PC after arriving on Xbox in 2018, but the game continues to feel fresh thanks to continuous updates from developer Hello Games that offer compelling content that keeps players on their toes.

Perhaps more than any other game in this roundup, No Man’s Sky illustrates freedom in a video game. It allows you to explore its ever-growing environment and create your own little slice of happiness in the digital world. But like any good game, it’s the combination of combat, exploration, and interactions with fellow players that keeps you coming back. Indeed, No Man’s Sky might have one of the most compelling communities anywhere.

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves puts you in the shoes of a pirate, and not in the same way as Black Flag does (even though that’s still one of the best Assassin’s Creed games ever). It’s not just an open-world action-adventure game with a pirate skin — Sea of Thieves is a pirate simulator. From looting unexplored islands to piloting your ship with a group of friends, Rare manages to gamify every aspect of Sea of Thieves, making each game task engaging no matter how mundane it may seem.

More importantly, the gamification leads to a sense of freedom. Nothing in Sea of Thieves is stringent, from the loose leveling system to the Tall Tales that make up the campaign. You’re free to explore and tackle objectives in any way you see fit, or simply ignore objectives altogether. Although a lonely experience on your own, Sea of Thieves is a must-play with a group of friends. The game even supports cross-platform play between the Game Pass and Steam versions, so stringing together a group of pirates is easy.

Read our Sea of Thieves review

Indie

Dead Cells

Dead Cells has a pitch that sounds like a lot of other indie games: A Metroidvania with roguelike elements. Despite that, it’s one of the most addicting games on Game Pass. The title doesn’t do much to iterate upon the genre — basically, you’re provided weapon upgrades and encounter increasingly difficult enemies as you run the gauntlet — but the fun comes from how the game feels.

At first, Dead Cells feels unwieldy, as your character doesn’t jump very high and is constantly getting snagged on outstretched platforms. Once you learn to control the game, though, it becomes invigorating. You can rip through levels with incredible speed, providing a sense of aggression not found in other Metroidvanias.

Read our full Dead Cells review

Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire is a deck-building game with roguelike elements. In the beginning, you’ll choose one of four characters, each of which has its own set of cards. You’re given a starter deck with basic attack and defense cards, and as you defeat enemies, you’ll be able to add new cards to your deck.

Although simple in premise, Slay the Spire’s gameplay loop becomes addicting fast. The game is balanced enough to encourage exploration with different cards, making each run unique. Maybe your character focuses on building up huge attacks, or maybe you focus on defense and inflict status effects on your enemies. No matter your path, Slay the Spire is a fantastic ride.

Undertale

undertale screenshot

Undertale is just now making its way to Xbox, over five years after the game’s release — and it’s available on Game Pass. If you’ve slept on Undertale, now is your time to jump in. It’s a quirky RPG that breaks all of the rules, then sits back and laughs at the fact that there are rules in the first place. It’s a game that can make you laugh, scare you half to death, and everything in between.

Undertale isn’t just a good game because it’s weird, though. Even as a traditional RPG, the combat system is engaging and inventive, the characters are teeming with depth, and the soundtrack is a perfect blend of SNES-era JRPG music and modern electronic production.

It was developed by a single person, too. Toby Fox is responsible for the game’s writing, art, design, and music (Fox eventually went on to arrange some music for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon Sword and Shield). Even if you’re on the fence, it’s worth downloading Undertale. It’s a game that sucks you in and refuses to let go.

Read our Undertale backlog review

Platformer

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight wears its Super Metroid and Dark Souls influences on its sleeve but manages to provide an experience all its own. You control a silent, nameless knight with a nail, who is tasked with exploring the vast, insect-ridden kingdom of Hallownest. Like any good Metroidvania, Hollow Knight has a vast, interconnected map that you’re free to explore.

Although certain areas are locked off in the early game, you’ll quickly begin running from one corner of the map to the other. The title’s open design teaches you by showing. Rather than holding your hand, Hollow Knight asks you to explore and find answers for yourself, resulting in one of the most satisfying experiences of this genre.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

In previous versions of this list, Moonhead Studios’ excellent Ori and the Blind Forest occupied this spot. With the sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps out, though, it’s hard even looking at the original game. Will of the Wisps is three times the size of Blind Forest, offering more exploration, mechanics, and boss encounters.

The game plays the same as the original, just with some fine-tuning of the controls. Although we still recommend playing through Blind Forest — it’s a short game at around eight hours — Will of the Wisps is the better title. Just get ready to cry, like, a lot.

Read our Ori and the Will of the Wisps preview

The Messenger

The Messenger looks like a Ninja Gaiden clone on its face, but after a few hours of playing, it becomes more than that. Switching between two different eras, you take the role of a ninja tasked with delivering a scroll that could save his village from a demonic invasion. The story is, admittedly, generic, something the game actively pokes fun at. The narrative isn’t what sticks out here, though.

What starts as a linear 8-bit action platformer turns into a 16-bit Metroidvania about halfway through. The Messenger sends you back and forth between the future and past to re-explore levels, unlock secrets, and upgrade your character. That, combined with ultra-tight gameplay and snappy writing, makes it an essential platformer.

Role-playing

Yakuza 0

Grand Theft Auto V isn’t on Game Pass anymore, but you can still get your open-world, organized crime fix with Yakuza 0. If you’re unaware, “yakuza” is basically the Japanese phrase for “mafia,” and sure enough, Yakuza 0 puts you in the shoes of a soon-to-be yakuza boss, Kazuma Kiryu.

Yakuza 0 serves as a prequel to the rest of the series, which dates all the way back to the days of the PS2. As you explore Kamurocho and Sōtenbori, fictionalized versions of Tokyo’s Kabukichō and Osaka’s Dōtonbori, you can take on sidequests, compete in fighting challenges, or take on one of the many mini-games. Although Yakuza has been a Sony-exclusive franchise for a long time, you can now play Yakuza 0 and a remastered version of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami, on Game Pass.

The Yakuza Remastered Collection is on Game Pass, too, with the second through sixth game available.

The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds is a sci-fi RPG from Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian Entertainment. Featuring a similarly branching story, tighter gunplay, and the same witty writing, The Outer Worlds is a Fallout clone that captures the dark humor of the series perfectly. That said, it’s a little short.

If you’re coming from Fallout 4, The Outer Worlds can feel scant, with a little more than 25 hours of gameplay in total. What the game lacks in quantity, however, it makes up for in quality. The title feels handcrafted from beginning to end, adding a level of polish unseen by even its Bethesda counterparts.

Monster Hunter: World

Monster Hunter: World is the de facto way to play the long-running series. Coming off a long series of exclusivity deals with Sony and Nintendo, World is the first Monster Hunter game to make its way to both Xbox and PC. In it, you explore one of the largest open worlds gaming has to offer, discovering new territories, finding new items and, of course, taking down huge monsters.

World is fun as a single-player experience, though, the grind can get repetitive fast. The game shines most when you tackle quests with a group of friends. As long as you have fellow hunters along for the ride, World provides an addictive loop of hunting, gathering, and upgrading, with the Iceborne DLC expanding the game even more.

Read our full Monster Hunter: World review

Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition

Dragon Quest XI review

Dragon Quest XI is a great game, and for the past few years, it’s only been available to PC and PS4 players. Now, it’s finally on Xbox, and it’s available on Game Pass. Dragon Quest XI offers absolutely no surprises for series fans, and that’s a good thing. Like the best JRPGs, the game sends you from town to town, battling monsters in turn-based combat along the way. The mechanics aren’t interesting, but Dragon Quest XI‘s characters are, and their banter makes the game shine.

The version available on Game Pass is the best way to play the game, too. It’s an updated version of Dragon Quest XI with a fully orchestrated soundtrack, a 2D mode that turns that game into a retro JRPG, and a slew of quality of life improvements. The obnoxiously long title aside, this version really is the definitive way to play Dragon Quest XI. Having a fully orchestrated soundtrack — as opposed to the MIDI the original game shipped with — is enough, even.

Read our Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age review

Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim

There isn’t a reason to split these three games apart because they’re all excellent. Everyone has their reasons for liking one Elder Scrolls game over another, but you really can’t go wrong with any of Bethesda’s open-world epics.

Morrowind established the franchise on consoles. Even after nearly 20 years, Morrowind has some of the best writing and world design in the series, and the skill system still holds up. Oblivion pushed the freeform design of Morrowind further, adding more depth and things to do in the world. It also fixed Morrowind’s clunky combat system, lowering the barrier to entry for new players. Then there’s Skyrim, which made Bethesda and Elder Scrolls household names.

If you have option paralysis, we recommend starting with Oblivion. Skyrim is a close second, but Oblivion defined the systems and world design that Bethesda built upon in Skyrim. 

Strategy

Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics is way better than it has any right to be. It’s a turn-based strategy game where you command a small group of elite soldiers. Playing as Gabe Diaz, it’s your job to ensure your troops survive each combat encounter unscathed, all while training up reserves.

If you’ve played the recent XCOM games, this setup sounds familiar. Gears Tactics tweaks the formula in a few big ways, though. Movement is open instead of based on a grid, and the progression systems for your soldiers is much deeper. Gears Tactics could have been nothing more than a half-baked Gears of War spin-off. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Read our Gears Tactics review

Wargroove

Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game that borrows a lot from the Advanced Wars series. The single-player experience is satisfying — allowing you to quickly learn about the different armies, leaders, and their units available at your disposal — but the game really comes into its own when it comes to multiplayer. With support for custom maps and campaigns, PvP, and co-op, Wargroove asks you to master its deep tactics system.

Although you’ll quickly learn about the bread and butter units of each army, Wargroove stands out with 15 unique commanders. Each of these commanders leads a different army and comes with their own unique “groove.” These special abilities characterize the factions, some of which provide area-of-effect healing and others that deal devastating blows to enemies.

Shooter

Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 review

Titanfall 2 is the best shooter Respawn Entertainment has made (and yes, we claim that in full view of Apex Legends). Take Apex Legends, remove all of the restrictions imposed to make the game balanced, and you have Titanfall 2‘s single-player gameplay. The campaign is short, the story isn’t great, and it’s clear Respawn borrowed a little too much from Borderlands 2 (particularly when it comes to bosses). Despite all of that, Titanfall‘s excellent and exploitable movement mechanics make it a stellar game.

You don’t really need to look further than a Titanfall 2 speedrun to see that. It’s a shooter first and foremost, but if you can master movement in Titanfall 2, the game turns into an extremely tight and challenging platformer. That’s what makes Titanfall 2 so exciting.

It’s still a great shooter, though, developed by a studio that’s proved itself a master of the genre. Even if you aren’t interested in Titanfall 2‘s movement mechanics, you can still get a lot out of the campaign, and especially out of multiplayer.

Read our Titanfall 2 review

Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal Horde

In 2016, it seemed impossible to top id Software’s Doom reboot. The most series fans could have hoped for from a sequel was more of the same. But Doom Eternal pushed further, not conforming to the exact same structure that was so successful for 2016’s Doom (both critically and commercially).

The gunplay is familiar, but Doom Eternal is bigger and more ambitious. The scale of levels is massive, and id honed in on the resource management mechanics in Doom. Instead of going from fight to fight until the end of the level, Doom Eternal makes battles interesting by forcing you to use glory kills and your chainsaw to pick up ammo and health. That forces you into the, as described by id Software, “fun zone.” It turns out that’s a great place to be.

Read our Doom Eternal review

Gears 5

After more than a decade of huge biceps and chunky guns, Gears 5 breathes new life into a series that has gone stale. With some of the best storytelling the series has seen and the implementation of RPG elements, Gears 5 builds upon the third-person shooter genre in just about every way.

Story aside, the bones of any good Gears game are present. The fifth entry has excellent co-op and multiplayer support, including Escape, Versus, and Horde game modes. For a series as prolific as Gears of War, The Coalition could’ve easily phoned it in for the fifth entry. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Read our full Gears 5 review

Halo 5: Guardians

It’s impossible to discuss the Xbox without also mentioning the Halo franchise. One of Microsoft’s most well-loved exclusives, the series has lived past its early glory days with Bungie, but Halo’s recent forays back into Master Chief’s world make impressive returns to the things we loved about the old days. In particular, Halo 5 had a great single-player campaign, but the game shines most in multiplayer mode.

Since the launch of Developer 343 Studios in 2015, the company has taken huge strides to support the game by providing rewards through REQ packs and constantly rotating new game modes. It’s a Halo game through-and-through, but more than that, it’s a game that has evolved from the series’ roots to be one of the best shooters around.

Read our Halo 5: Guardians review

Dishonored 2

If Dishonored 2 were simply an action game, it’d still be a great game, but it’s more than that. Arkane really outdid themselves with this all-encompassing sim genre, giving players so many different avenues for play they feel like a kid in a candy store.

You’ll be able to experience new gameplay activities, including tool manufacture and even having vermin at your disposal. Consequently, you’ll have numerous new ways to defeat your enemies. 

There are lots of ways to handle encounters, which means you can replay the game multiple times. This allows you to practice and perfect your gameplay, so you’ll always end up on top.

Read our Dishonored 2 review

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