Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription is about as close to “Netflix for games” as you can get. And just like Netflix, there are ways to get the most bang for your buck. Here are some tips for wringing everything you can out of a Game Pass subscription.
Like many other media subscriptions, Game Pass is available in multiple tiers. The standard tier is $10 a month, which grants you access to the Game Pass library and not much else. The PC version—which has its own library full of many overlapping games but some exclusives, like Crusader Kings III—is also $10, though it cost $5 when it was in beta earlier this year.
For $15 a month you can get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which gives you access to both the console and PC Game Pass libraries. You also get a subscription to Xbox Live Gold, Microsoft’s online service, which itself offers four extra games per month via the Games With Gold program. Members of Ultimate can also stream games directly to Android devices (and, next year, iOS ones, too). As of November, Ultimate comes bundled with EA Play, a games-on-demand service full of EA’s video games and sports advertisements. Game Pass Ultimate is also starting to include first-party expansions at no extra cost, a perk not available to members of the standard tier.
It’s clear that Microsoft wants to funnel subscribers into the higher price point. For the time being, pending a serious spike in the sticker price, the math works out to justify the leap—in most cases. Switching from the base-level to Ultimate is worth it if...
- You plan on paying full price for three tent-pole Xbox games in a calendar year.
- You plan on picking up both the console and PC Game Pass subscriptions.
- You plan on subscribing to at least two of the following: Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold, or EA Play.
The $15 monthly price can be daunting, particularly so in an era of subscription fatigue, but there are a few methods for alleviating the cost. For starters, your first three months currently cost just a dollar (total), though once that lapses, Microsoft automatically charges your card for a monthly renewal at the higher rate. Cancelling Game Pass won’t delete your save data for any games you’ve played with the service. You can pick up any game exactly where you left off by buying the game, either physically or digitally, or resubscribing to Game Pass.
Digital retailers will sometimes offer three-month or one-year cards for Ultimate that add up to less than the total cost. You can also convert codes for Microsoft’s other subscriptions into months of Ultimate, provided you’re already an Ultimate member, which can cut down the cost a bit. Say you’re sitting on a code for a year of Xbox Live Gold. You can redeem that for four months of Game Pass Ultimate. (Here’s a full list of exactly how many months of Ultimate your codes will concert to.)
Finally, consider finding a PC-playing friend—one you trust—and splitting the cost. At the moment, the PC player gets the short end of the stick, as EA Play has not currently been folded into the PC library. (That will happen some time next year.) Surely, you and your friend can hammer out a fair split, and you can both play games at the same time with the same account, so long as you’re not trying to play, say, Halo multiplayer.
The main draw of Game Pass is that you can play huge games without having to hit up GameStop or hand over more money to the Bezos empire. First-party games, like Gears 5 and The Outer Worlds, land on the service day one. Next year’s planned Halo Infinite will, too. If you want to play all of the biggest Xbox games at launch without dishing out $60 a pop, Game Pass is the way to do it. Big third-party games—like Control, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Tales of Vesperia—cycle in and out of the library all the time, too.
Many of Microsoft’s first-party games have been optimized for the Xbox Series X and S, allowing for faster load speeds, higher framerates, and sharper resolutions. And those with compatible displays can avail themselves of 120fps modes for Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears 5, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Game Pass is as good an excuse as any to replay old games, or to check them out for the first time.
As good as Game Pass is for scoring access to big games, it’s even better for discovering smaller ones. For every Forza or Halo or third-party blockbuster, there’s an under-the-radar gem you otherwise wouldn’t have looked at twice. The following dozen, if you missed them, are at least worth checking out:
- Call of the Sea
- Death Squared
- Outer Wilds
- Wizard of Legend
Most of the best games on Game Pass are relatively small—a handful of gigabytes, at most, and usually under 1GB—so even those with strict data caps can download them with little repercussion. If you’re only skimming the surface and playing the biggest hits, you’re missing out on a whole lot of terrific games.
Seeing as there are hundreds of games in the library, scrolling through alphabetically can be tedious. But you can narrow it down with some helpful filters. All you have to do is access Game Pass via “My Games and Apps,” rather than the standard Game Pass dashboard icon. In “My Games and Apps,” if you scroll to “full library,” you should see two tiles: one for Xbox Game Pass and one for EA Play. Viewing the library through those allows for robust categorization options that aren’t available in the standard Game Pass console app. You’ll have to view the EA Play and Game Pass libraries separately, though, rather than the catch-all trove you’d find in the Game Pass app.
On the top row, you should see an icon that looks like an inverted high-school science class funnel. Clicking on that allows you to filter by genre (platformer, shooter, role-playing, and so on), by console (Xbox and Xbox 360 games, Xbox One games, or next-gen “optimized” games), and multiplayer capabilities (online or local, co-op or competitive). If you simply want to use Game Pass to check out all of the games revamped with next-gen upgrades, you can do that. If you’d prefer to see which puzzle games offer local co-op, you can do that, too.
In some cases, Game Pass allows you to preload high-profile upcoming games. Right now, for instance, you can pre-install The Medium. Following a delay, Bloober Team’s forthcoming multidimensional nightmare won’t land on Game Pass until January 28, 2021, but you can get the 38GB download out of the way now.
Xbox controllers still use AA batteries, so this is never a bad idea.