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?
Herein, 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.
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
4 / 26
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).