Halfway through 2023, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service is looking to have another banner year, with over 450 games available for console players and over 400 for PC players.
Atlus’ JRPG classics Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 Portable made their debut on Xbox consoles earlier this year, and Tango Gameworks’ surprise release Hi-Fi Rush told a cathartic rock ’n’ roll story with clever mechanics. Even Grand Theft Auto 5 — and its extremely popular online mode — has returned to the service once more. That’s a lot of “free” video gaming to be done!
With the sheer size and the bounty of choice it offers, Game Pass can be a bit overwhelming to digest. But we’re here to help. Here are the 38 PC and Xbox Game Pass games that you should be checking out if you subscribe to Microsoft’s flagship service.
[Ed. note: This list was last updated on July 8, 2023. It will be updated as new games come to the service.]
Age of Empires 4
Age of Empires 4 serves as a reminder of what came before. It’s a classic real-time strategy game on PC that pits historic empires against one another. It has several campaigns, narrated like history documentaries, as well as online skirmishes so you can battle against friends.
But there are loads of other historic RTS games out there. What makes Age of Empires 4 special is that it came out in 2021. It’s a game designed to remind players what they loved about RTS games when they were all the rage over a decade ago, but it trades out aged sprites for glorious visuals and smooth performance. —Ryan Gilliam
Age of Empires 4 is available via Game Pass on Windows PC.
Among Us was originally released in 2018, but it took the events of 2020 to make it a phenomenon. You can play with up to 10 players, running around each level trying to finish tasks while an imposter (or several) tries to kill everyone else without being found out. It’s basically a goofy take on The Thing, but weaponized as a social game with multiple levels of strategy. How the imposter tries to get away with it, and talk their way out of it when emergency meetings are called, is half the fun.
There’s something amazing about the idea that there are so many games out there, so many titles across so many platforms, that the near-perfect game for every situation seems to already exist ... somewhere. In this case, it was found and rescued from relative obscurity, and there’s even a free-to-play iOS and Android version that can connect with PC players if you want to get a crew together.
The thought of all those hidden gems, just waiting to be given a second chance, is comforting in a time when so many people are finding it hard to continue to be creative, or have hope at all.
Among Us helped show us that relief may come from unexpected places, and the game has been keeping players occupied, and laughing, ever since it took off in the summer of 2020. —Ben Kuchera
Among Us is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
A Plague Tale: Requiem
Video games have an endless fascination with protectors. Whether it be a man escorting his proxy daughter through an apocalyptic America, a father guiding his son through the trials of mythical Armageddon, or a government agent sent to retrieve the president’s daughter from a remote Spanish village, this is a medium obsessed with those who have been deemed guardians. And despite the pedigree of the above examples, I have encountered few “escort” stories as stunning as that of A Plague Tale: Requiem.
Set shortly after A Plague Tale: Innocence, Requiem finds protagonist Amicia and her younger brother Hugo during a brief reprieve from the Macula, the sinister plague that gives Hugo vicious powers, but is also eating him from the inside. The respite comes to an end, of course, propelling the duo on a journey across the French countryside, through rat-infested tunnels, and across the rooftops of plague-ridden slums. Pacing is crucial in third-person adventures, and Requiem’s expert flow of puzzles, stealth sequences, horrifying set-pieces, and brutal combat scenarios is pacing at its best. —Mike Mahardy
A Plague Tale: Requiem is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Assassin’s Creed Origins has always been good — but it was only in hindsight, three years after its release, that I began to consider it great.
It’s a phenomenal concoction of historical tourism, sci-fi storytelling, and open-ended combat. It also displays a confidence that the more recent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla can only partially match. Whereas the two most recent entries embrace the insecure ethos of “content” that has so defined the last decade of open-world games, Origins is content to leave vast swaths of its world empty and to let things burn slowly, in ways both narrative and explorative. Its map unfurls over deserts, mountains, oases, and sun-swept cities slowly being buried in sand, all while its two central figures (Bayek and Aya) navigate one of video games’ most compelling romances.
It’s not completely averse to daily challenges and cosmetic DLC packs. But it’s the rare open-world game that trusts my attention span. It understands that pastoral beauty and tragic storytelling, successfully interwoven, are worth more than any number of distractions its successors can throw at me. —Mike Mahardy
Assassin’s Creed Origins is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Chicory: A Colorful Tale tells the story of a small dog who accidentally inherits a magical paintbrush. As you travel around the black-and-white open world, you use your new paint powers to bring color back to the environments. Everything is your canvas, and you can color it all to both solve puzzles and customize the setting to your liking.
The gameplay of Chicory is cute and relatively simple, even as you unlock new powers. But the reason it made it to the No. 2 slot on Polygon’s 2021 Game of the Year list is the story it tells about the destructive powers of self-doubt — the way it cruelly infects even the greatest artists out there.
Chicory is a game that’s not about coloring in the lines or even making something beautiful. It’s about making something — painting something, in this case — that you are proud of, that makes you happy. And if that creation also brings joy to those around you? Hey, that’s great too. —Ryan Gilliam
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
There’s a reason Cities: Skylines is often held up by literal city planners as the pinnacle of the genre: It doesn’t fall into the trap most city-builders do of treating all its resources and systems as mere data points on a list, gaming by way of a spreadsheet. Cities: Skylines is the real deal, letting you get into the weeds of urban micromanagement and understanding how and why metropolises morph in response to the needs of their citizens. (It’s also proof that planned cities are a crime against humanity.)
Cities: Skylines forces you to grapple with the beautiful, messy truth of what your citizens are: people. In other words, Eric Adams, please play Cities: Skylines! —Ari Notis
Cities Skylines is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Citizen Sleeper is a hyper-stylized tabletop-like RPG set in space. In a capitalist society, you find yourself stuck on a space station. You’ll need to manage your time, energy, and relationships to survive the collapse of the corporatocracy and the anarchy that follows. You’ll roll dice and make decisions to get paid and help those around you.
Aside from its interesting setting, Citizen Sleeper features a vibrant cast of impactful characters, making each interaction memorable. It follows an excellent trend of table-top inspired games to encourage you to find your own objectives, and to revel in the story when things fall apart. It’s packed with tense decisions, great writing, and striking visuals. —Ryan Gilliam
Citizen Sleeper is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Crusader Kings 3
Imagine if Succession unfolded between the years 867 and 1453, in the throne rooms, banquet halls, and torchlit back corridors of European castles. Monarchs rise and fall, small-time fiefdoms become bona fide kingdoms, and nonmarital children exact revenge after decades of being shunned. Crusader Kings 3 is the story of the Roy family if we could pick any character, see them through to their death, and assume control of their orphaned heir — at which point, we can completely alter the course of the dynasty through petty gossip and underhanded murder attempts.
In Paradox Interactive’s vast suite of grand strategy games with complex systems that give way to thrilling emergent storytelling, none have made me cackle with glee quite as much as Crusader Kings 3. In one playthrough, I wed my firstborn son to the daughter of a powerful neighboring king, only for said daughter to declare a holy war on me one decade later. In another, I strong-armed one of my vassals into remaining loyal, shortly before knighting his cousin and sworn rival; I didn’t want to be a jerk, but my characters were jerks. I was just following the script down the path of least resistance.
Much like Succession, Crusader Kings 3 is at its best when tensions finally boil over between the emotionally stunted members of a dysfunctional family. Unlike Succession, though, Crusader Kings 3 never has to end. —Mike Mahardy
Crusader Kings 3 is available via Game Pass on Windows PC and Xbox Series X.
Dead Cells is the platonic ideal of a roguelite — a fact that, if anything, has only grown stronger with age. The Castlevania trappings serve as a vehicle for rock-solid gameplay that stands on its own merits: breathlessly tense combat and a seemingly bottomless array of weapons.
The unpredictable nature of Dead Cells is emblematic of that “just one more run” mentality, a sensation that has been expanded upon with a wave of DLC, including one deliciously meta Castlevania tie-in.
It was true in 2017, when the game first came out. It’s true now. Dead Cells is one of the best roguelites of all time. —Ari Notis
Dead Cells is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Death’s Door is a cute little Soulslike game. You play as a raven who works as a kind of grim reaper for the bureaucratic arm of the afterlife. It’s your job to adventure in the world and claim the lives of a handful of bosses. The world of Death’s Door is charming, as are its characters, with excellent dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve. There are also giant enemies who will test both your skills and patience.
Still, Death’s Door has a friendly air around it. It wants you to succeed, and does a nice job easing you along with easy-to-read enemy and boss patterns. It’s a great, challenging Game Pass game to cut your teeth on before venturing into even more difficult titles. —Ryan Gilliam
Death’s Door is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
2016’s Doom builds off of one of the oldest franchises in gaming history with speed, acrobatics, and an absolutely killer soundtrack. Doomguy moves extremely quickly, swapping between a variety of guns, grenades, melee attacks, and a giant chainsaw to blow up demons off of Mars.
The game is bloody, metal as hell, and surprisingly funny. Doom makes you feel like a god, capable of clearing any hurdle the game could throw at you, and it doesn’t offer a single dull level in its lengthy campaign. —Ryan Gilliam
Doom (2016) is available via Game Pass on Xbox One and Xbox Series X.
Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 is the latest racing game to land on Xbox and Game Pass. It’s a visual feast filled with some of the most realistic-looking cars you’ve ever seen. But anyone who loves any of these Forza games will tell you that the Horizon series is so much more than its graphics.
Horizon 5 takes place in a fictionalized Mexico, and gives you the freedom to drive around a massive map in whatever car you want. You can drive a nice sports car while off-roading, or drive a hummer off a massive ramp.
Forza Horizon 5 gives you the freedom and choice to drive how and where you want inside a legion of incredible cars. —Ryan Gilliam
Forza Horizon 5 is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Grand Theft Auto 5 is one of the most celebrated games of the last decade. In that time, it has appeared on three different generations of consoles, seen numerous graphical improvements, and gotten new modes, like its sweeping first-person alteration.
The main story focuses on three criminals from three very different backgrounds bumbling their way through numerous heists in the city of Los Santos — a fictional version of Southern California. And in order to tell the stories of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, the game implements a feature that allows you to swap between the protagonists at will, offering a new perspective on the city and letting you play multiple roles per heist.
Grand Theft Auto games usually live long past their time, but GTA 5 has remained especially relevant due to GTA Online, the sprawling MMO-like experience that Rockstar Games created inside the world of San Andreas. It’s the massive GTA 5 sandbox — plus a little extra — without any of the constraints found in the story mode.
The parts of GTA 5 that annoy — such as the more misguided aspects of its American commentary, or the occasional tailing mission — are distant memories compared to the chaos you can cause every five minutes. If futzing around a semi-realistic metropolitan area is something you really enjoy, it’s hard to imagine anything on this list entertaining you for as long as Grand Theft Auto 5 will. —Ryan Gilliam
Grand Theft Auto 5 is available via Game Pass on Xbox One and Xbox Series X.
Grounded is a horrifying glimpse into our own backyards. It’s a game that answers a question posed only by the highest of our friends: Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a bug crawling around in the grass? Obsidian Entertainment answers that question with an even better one: What if you were so small that even bugs were giants?
On its face, Grounded is another great survival game. You run around the backyard — a veritable wonderland to your tiny, shrunken child body — collecting resources, drinking water to stay hydrated, eating food to stay full, upgrading your equipment, and building your bases. But it’s the flavor that sells Grounded and keeps it both charming and scary.
Your homes aren’t built from wooden planks; they’re built from blades of grass you’ve carefully cut down. Your water supply is the dew drops resting on plants each morning. And you haven’t truly feared an enemy in a video game until you’ve seen a wolf spider eight times your size sprinting toward you in the middle of the night.
Everything in Grounded comes together extremely well, whether you’re playing solo or with some friends in a shared world. It’s one of the most charming survival games I’ve ever played, and promises hours of fun to anyone willing to face down the massive, terrifying creatures standing in their way. —Ryan Gilliam
Grounded is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
The Xbox brand might never have taken off without the Halo series, the first-person shooters that helped to popularize local competitive multiplayer on consoles before taking the party online after the launch of Xbox Live. The Master Chief Collection package includes multiple Halo games, all of which have been updated to keep them enjoyable for modern audiences.
But what’s so striking about the collection is how many ways there are to play. You can go through the campaigns by yourself. If you want to play with a friend but don’t want to compete, there is co-op, allowing you to share the games’ stories with a partner, either online or through split-screen play. If you do want to compete, you can do it locally against up to three other players on the same TV, or take things online to challenge the wider community.
These are some of the best first-person shooters ever released, and they’re worth revisiting and enjoying, no matter how you decide to play them. Sharing these games with my children through local co-op has been an amazing journey, and this package includes so many games, each of which is filled with different modes and options. It’s hard to imagine ever getting bored or uninstalling the collection once it’s on your hard drive.
This is a part of gaming history that continues to feel relevant, and very much alive. —Ben Kuchera
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is another game poking fun at corporate greed and its general indifference toward the working class — seen in other excellent building games like Satisfactory. But Hardspace takes it further than just tongue-in-cheek poking by asking: What happens when the workers have had enough? Hardspace: Shipbreaker’s pro-union message is a delightful backdrop for an incredibly deep and stress-filled puzzle game.
As a Shipbreaker, your job is to break apart and recycle small spaceships. With your handy welding tools and futuristic gravity tethers, you’re able to carefully carve up these once-great hulks and repurpose them for the future. Sometimes that means throwing all the metal plates into the furnace to be melted down, and other times you’ll need to comb through the skeletons, grab salvageable items, and extract them still intact.
As you improve your skills, the game will test you with harder and larger ships. Suddenly, you’ll have to start worrying about the active nuclear reactors that are still in these vehicles, or pressurized cabins that explode if you open them in the wrong order.
And all of this danger circles Hardspace: Shipbreaker back to the conversation it starts at the very beginning. Hardspace is a game about focus, and how taking your eye off the ball for even a second can end in explosive death, or worse: a career spent toiling under forces that couldn’t care less about you. —Ryan Gilliam
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is available via Game Pass on Windows PC and Xbox Series X.
Rhythm games, for players who prefer to shoot, dodge, punch, and jump on their own time, can be a tough sell. But such is not the case with Hi-Fi Rush, the action game from Ghostwire: Tokyo developer Tango Gameworks. It provides an array of visual cues to help rhythmically challenged players, but crucially, it doesn’t require that protagonist Chai attacks according to the game’s metronome. Instead, its rhythm elements are an optional layer to interact with, offering score chasers something to aspire to. For everyone else, the game’s vibrant world, rock n’ roll storytelling, and entrancing traversal stand well enough on their own. It’s a cathartic triumph of a game. —Mike Mahardy
Hi-Fi Rush is available via Game Pass on Windows PC and Xbox Series X.
Hitman World of Assassination
Hitman, Hitman 2, and Hitman 3 are some of the best sandbox puzzle games ever made. As Agent 47, you’ll climb buildings, sneak around parties, and murder spies and debutantes with all manner of tools. Hitman World of Assassination includes the campaigns from all three of the games in IO Interactive’s recent World of Assassination trilogy, giving you more than a dozen maps to play on. Just last week, it also added Freelancer mode, which functions like a roguelike as Agent 47 kills his way through four major crime syndicates, fleshing out his safehouse as he goes.
The Hitman series may be about violence and murder, but it manages to stay lighthearted and fun with its wild physics and silly scenarios. It’s the perfect series to goof around in if you feel like being stealthy, or just want to see what happens when you drop a giant chandelier on a crowd of snobby jerks. —Ryan Gilliam
Hitman Trilogy is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
For a roguelite that doesn’t ask you to do much on an input level, Loop Hero is surprisingly compelling. You start out each run in a cyclical dungeon, viewed from a bird’s-eye perspective. Your character circles the map repeatedly, killing skeletons, vampires, and other fantasy-fare enemies on the way. You have some control over the contours of your loop, dictating what types of foes spawn, and where they do so. You can customize gear, earned from defeating enemies, for better stats. But the rest of the stuff — your movement, your attacks, your enemies’ attacks — is largely automated.
The result is a game that casts you as part mathematician, part autocratic overseer. You adjust the rules of the equation, then watch the math play out. —Ari Notis
Loop Hero is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
The Mass Effect franchise was gigantic for the Xbox 360 era, but it didn’t transfer to future platforms well — purchasing and downloading the entire story became confusing and expensive when moving to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. But 2021’s Legendary Edition finally made the entire Mass Effect trilogy accessible in one package.
The story follows Commander Shepard, a futuristic military hero, who’s tasked with gathering a collection of alien misfits for a variety of missions. Each game is wonderfully crafted, with stand-alone stories and breakout characters that don’t rely on the series’ wider narrative. As a trilogy, the games build on each other with meaningful choices that carry over to the next entry, giving weight to your choices.
The Legendary Edition is the way to experience Mass Effect, and it’s a must-play whether you’re on your first run to save the galaxy or your fifth. —Ryan Gilliam
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, but only for those that have Game Pass Ultimate.
Minecraft is a game in which everything looks like it’s made out of large, square blocks, and you can harvest materials and use them to build whatever you’d like out of those blocks.
There isn’t much left to say about Minecraft that hasn’t already been said, but the game remains popular online, and it has the ability to keep my children occupied in a way no other game can match, in my experience. They ignore the survival mode and go straight for creative, treating it like a split-screen world in which they can build anything they’d like, without worrying about whether they’re going to run out of Lego bricks.
It’s a game that can be meditative when played alone and social when shared with others, and there are mountains of user-created content to sift through and explore. Like the rest of the games on this list, Minecraft is very easy to get into, but you may find it tricky to leave. —Ben Kuchera
Minecraft is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Since Slay the Spire (which is also on this list) debuted in 2017, the card-based roguelite has exploded as a genre. And this many years and mediocre clones later, who could blame you if you dismissed a game like Monster Train after only glimpsing a single screenshot?
But Monster Train is worth your time and attention.
In Monster Train, your goal is to protect your train’s core as it travels to the heart of hell itself. To do that, you’ll need to control one of several different armies, each with their own play styles, and set your units up on multiple floors of the locomotive.
Each battle plays out in turns, and you’ll use your cards to place units, deal direct damage to foes, or buff up your existing army to ensure that your enemies are dead by the time the turn is over. Any enemies that survive climb farther into your train, and closer to your core.
The various artifacts and army combinations in Monster Train ensure that every run feels different. And the difficulty is tuned tightly enough that your first few wins will come well before you spend dozens of hours struggling against the game. But like any good roguelite, Monster Train lures you into one more run with better rewards hidden behind its scaling difficulty.
Everything in Monster Train comes together to ensure you constantly feel like a mix between a tactical genius and a flailing schoolkid. —Ryan Gilliam
Monster Train is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania that masters two of the most important aspects of a side-scrolling platformer: the background and the movement.
Ori is filled with color, and as you explore each corner of the game’s massive map, you’ll discover unique locations that all feel like they’re part of the same ecosystem, flowing from one to the next as naturally as possible. And as you move through these areas, you’ll unlock abilities that allow you to slingshot and bound through the environment, until you’re eventually reaching new heights faster than ever.
Beneath its fast pace and beauty, Ori also has a fascinating and unique checkpoint system that allows you to create your own wherever you’re at. Adding to that system as the game grows is just as rewarding as unlocking a new power for Ori or defeating a massive boss.
Despite how much it’s doing, Ori manages to mesh everything together beautifully into a thrilling adventure. It’s one of the best — and most beautiful — platformers on Game Pass, and you shouldn't miss it. —Ryan Gilliam
Ori and the Blind Forest via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Pentiment is the most immediately striking and recognizable game on this list. Inspired by the art of classic manuscripts, Pentiment sucks you into its beautifully designed version of 16th-century Europe, when books were still being written by hand in monasteries.
You play as Andreas, a young artist looking to make his fortune in an ever-changing world. And as you explore a small village and the grounds surrounding it, and go to work drawing magnificent pictures in custom manuscripts, you’ll meet new people and further flesh out Andreas’ personality and background.
The story will take you through murder, scandal, and a variety of other dramatic events in Andreas’ life. But the plot is secondary to the game’s incredible style and dialogue. —Ryan Gilliam
Pentiment is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden follows a boy who goes to stay with his uncle and cousin in a small Japanese town. But almost immediately after his arrival, a serial killer starts murdering civilians, all of which have an unknown thread connecting them.
As with all Persona games, Persona 4 Golden allows you to play out your time in school, improving your character’s social stats and friendships before diving into dungeons to help further the plot. But the cast of characters in Persona 4 Golden is unlike any other in the series, offering some of the most memorable party members in any RPG.
Now on Xbox, Persona 4 Golden looks wonderful and plays beautifully. It’s a smart turn-based RPG that’s loaded with conversations to be had and mysteries to solve. —Ryan Gilliam
Persona 4 Golden is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal takes one of the best and longest JRPGs of the past decade and tacks another major story chapter on the end. Normally, the idea of spending another 20+ hours in a game that already takes 100+ hours would sound like a nightmare, but with Persona it’s more like that one time your parents were two hours late to pick you up at a friend’s house.
Royal adds a new Phantom Thief for you to battle alongside. But in typically Persona fashion, that new party member doesn’t matter nearly as much as the relationship they come with. An extra 20 hours in Royal is another 20 hours spent getting to know your best friends, a great cast of beloved characters that act as both confidant and turn-based chess pieces. And, of course, there are new non-combat friends to make as well, all of which feel just as fleshed out as the original cast.
Persona 5 is already an excellent RPG filled with awesome dungeons and a delightful story. But it’s also that rare breed of game that never feels like too much, even as it balloons to multiple days worth of in-game time. So it’s no surprise that Royal makes a great game even better by simply adding more. —Ryan Gilliam
Persona 5 Royal is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass.
Planet of Lana
Planet of Lana is unmistakably a “Limbolike” (those puzzle-platformers unambiguously inspired by Playdead’s watershed Limbo). You, as the titular Lana, live an idyllic life in a fishing village, before the planet is invaded by extraterrestrial robots. You escape the initial attack and rescue a catlike creature named Mui. As a pair, you solve environmental puzzles and stealthily avoid capture by machines. You can dictate Mui’s movements; nearly every segment in the game requires deft use of Mui’s signature set of skills (y’know, chewing on wires, like any good/bad cat).
Planet of Lana could easily have been just another entry in a long line of imitators, but instead is set apart and defined by the one thing missing from Limbo and its ilk: companionship. —Ari Notis
Planet of Lana is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
PowerWash Simulator is the perfect game to sit on your couch and space off to. As the name suggests, you’re a professional power washer, and your job is to use your washing tools to obliterate grease, grime, and goop off of vehicles, buildings, and even entire playgrounds.
There are some minor upgrade and currency systems, but PowerWash Simulator mostly takes a minimalistic approach — you power wash stuff, no more, no less. Sure, you can take special jobs where you wash something wild like a Mars rover, but it’s really just about making things clean. And while it might sound like boring yard work, it’s actually quite meditative.
Blasting the black film off of a colorful slide provided me with one of the biggest serotonin bursts I’ve gotten from any piece of media in years. It’s a delightful, peaceful game that never fails to relax me after a long week. —Ryan Gilliam
PowerWash Simulator is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Psychonauts 2 is a sequel to one of the strangest games of the 3D-platformer age. And despite an odd gestation period, it’s a delightful romp through the minds of some incredible characters.
Psychonauts 2 sees Raz adventure through The Motherlobe — the headquarters of the titular Psychonauts — in an attempt to unravel a mystery that’s plagued the organization’s founders for years. This motivation leads to the game’s best feature: the chaotic brain-worlds of its cast.
Each world is a unique environment that moves from the abnormal to the absurd. What starts as a dentist’s office eventually warps into a disturbing explosion of fake teeth — which Raz can then grab and chuck using his telekinesis powers. Over the course of the game, you’ll adventure through a cooking show, a Disney park ride gone wrong, a psychedelic fever dream, and more.
The story and gameplay are both fun enough, but the game is such an explosion of charm and creativity that it’s hard to focus on anything else. —Ryan Gilliam
Psychonauts 2 is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
For as good as the original Resident Evil games are, they’ve been hard to recommend for a couple decades now. Their fixed camera angles, intimate locales, and focus on survival made for a palpable sense of dread, but their cumbersome control schemes and opaque, often infuriating puzzle structure can make all but the most patient modern players quit. They hold a special place in my heart, and I’ve devoured their numerous remakes and remasters whenever they see the light of day. But let’s face it: They’re outdated.
Signalis, on the other hand, is brand-new, and it shows. Its controls are (mostly) smooth; its puzzles are intuitive; it’s downright eerie. It puts you in the robotic shoes of a reawakened android as she searches for her counterpart in a wintry, forsaken base. Ammo is limited and deranged enemies won’t hesitate to rush you with butcher knives. Its unforgiving atmosphere and PlayStation 1-era graphics belie a modern, clever approach to one of our most revered — and intense – genres. —Mike Mahardy
Signalis is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass.
Slay the Spire
In Slay the Spire, I play as one of three unique characters, in order to fight my way through a randomly generated map filled with battles, treasure chests, and RPG-like encounters. Combat is similar to that of a turn-based RPG, but instead of selecting attacks and spells from a menu, I draw cards from each character’s specific pool of cards. These cards allow me to attack, defend, cast spells, or use special abilities. Each character has their own set of cards, making their play styles radically different.
I also learned to buck my expectations for the kinds of decks I should build. The key to deck-building games is constructing a thematic deck where each card complements the others. In card games like Magic: The Gathering, this is easy enough to do, since you do all your planning before a match — not in the moment, like in Slay the Spire. Since I’m given a random set of cards to build a deck from at the end of each encounter, I can’t go into any run with a certain deck-building goal in mind. I have to quickly decide on long-term deck designs based on what cards are available to me after a battle. The trick with Slay the Spire is to think more creatively and proactively than the typical card game requires. —Jeff Ramos
Slay the Spire is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Stardew Valley is quaint, but in the best way possible.
You start the game by inheriting a farm from your grandfather, and you then move to a sleepy town to take over the diminishing acres. For the next 10, 20, 50, 100-plus hours, you work to turn that farm into a modern utopia.
This is easily the most relaxing game on Game Pass. All you do is plant seeds, care for animals, mine some rocks, and befriend the villagers. There’s plenty of drama to be had — with the Wal-Mart-like JojaMart and an army of slimes trying to stop you from mining — but at the end of the day, you’re still going to pass out in your farmhouse and get ready to plant more strawberries the next morning. —Ryan Gilliam
Stardew Valley is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is already a classic Turtles brawler. If you could’ve overheard a bunch of kids talking about their dream TMNT game while playing the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade cabinet at a local pizza bar in 1989, or Turtles in Time in 1991, this is the Turtles game they’d be imagining.
But over 30 years later, Shredder’s Revenge implements some features that distinguish it from the days of the coin operated arcade. There’s a world map, side-quests, new heroes, experience points, and online matchmaking that help modernize the throwback trappings. Shredder’s Revenge manages to balance itself nicely between the world of retro and revamp.
With only 16 “episodes,” it’s the perfect Game Pass game to jump into with some pals at a sleepover — as long as there’s pizza, of course. —Ryan Gilliam
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition
The Elder Scrolls 5, better known as just Skyrim, is a classic. And while you can play it on almost any console or device known to humankind at this point, it’s still worth playing on Game Pass if you’ve never given it a chance, or are just craving another journey in its sprawling world.
Like most Bethesda RPGs, Skyrim is a first-person game with a giant, living world. There are dungeons to crawl, stories to uncover, and a variety of guilds to join. But you can also go off the beaten path and discover your own fun in Skyrim — it rewards you for being curious. It’s the kind of Game Pass game that you can play for hundreds of hours and never get bored. —Ryan Gilliam
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Tinykin is one of the best collect-a-thon platformers since the golden age of the Nintendo 64.
You play as a young astronaut, of sorts, who is trapped inside a normal human house. The catch here is that you’re only about the size of an ant, and you use even smaller creatures called Tinykin to help you get around.
As you adventure through the house you’ll command your Tinykin to help complete various tasks, like creating a disco bathtub rave for some resident bugs, rescuing a small critter from inside a piano, or baking a delicious treat with a host of hard-to-find ingredients. Each type of Tinykin has a unique function, and it’s your job to solve puzzles with their variety of skills.
If this sounds reminiscent of Nintendo’s Pikmin series, that’s because it is. But unlike Pikmin, there is no combat in Tinykin, which allows you to focus entirely on exploration and collectibles.
It’s one of the most peaceful games you can pick up on Game Pass, and one of the best games of 2022. —Ryan Gilliam
Tinykin is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass.
Vampire Survivors wants you to “become the bullet hell.”
The only control you have over the game is what character you select, what items you choose during your run, and where your character moves. Depending on your weapons of choice, knives, whips, flames, magic bolts, bibles, or holy water fly out of your character in every direction, decimating hordes or pixelated movie monsters, earning you cash for your next adventure.
Though extremely simple on its face, Vampire Survivors is one of the best games of 2022. It perfectly walks the line between peaceful and stressful, requiring the perfect amount of attention for success. It also facilitates growth through skill and through roguelite progression, ensuring that each run is a bit different from your last. —Ryan Gilliam
Vampire Survivors is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2 isn’t just the best installment in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs trilogy, it’s one of the best open-world games the studio has put out in years.
Watch Dogs 2 takes you to San Francisco and puts you in the shoes of Marcus Holloway, a hacker who works with a hacktivist group called DedSec. You’ll use your drone and RC car to hack things from a distance, or sneak around and remote hack objects with your phone. And when things get too dangerous, you can pull out your stun gun or eight-ball-on-a-rope to deal some serious damage.
Watch Dogs 2’s writing doesn’t always do it any favors when it tries to get serious or make a point about the dystopian police-state future its characters were dreading living in, but its heroes add enough character to the game that even the idiot in the emoji-eyes helmet is lovable. —Ryan Gilliam
Watch Dogs 2 is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order asks what would happen if the Nazis used their occult leanings and experimental technology to win World War II. Then the game puts you in the shoes of a recently awakened B.J. Blazkowicz and tells you to kill as many of those Nazis as you can.
It’s a more expansive take on a World War II shooter — something video games ran into the dirt over a decade ago — taking place in an alternate future we’ve never seen. You’ll meet Jimi Hendrix as a resistance fighter, and see records for the German version of The Beatles that never was. You’ll see fascism in full swing, and be given the tools to fight it.
As major players continue to flirt with fascism, it’s a shockingly relevant game that manages to hit just as hard, if not even harder now, as it did in 2014. It’s a must-play for first-person shooter fans, and especially cathartic for anyone concerned about the state of the world in 2023. —Ryan Gilliam
Wolfenstein: The New Order is available via Game Pass on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.