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Here’s a subjective question that demands an in-depth telling: Is Xbox Game Pass Worth it? It’s too good to be true, right? Because back when we were kids, a simple Nintendo 64 cartridge cost well over $60. We begged our parents, mowed lawns and did chores for enough cash to buy one game. If it was a crappy game? Too bad!

Fast forward two decades. Enter Xbox Game Pass, a value proposition unfathomable to your 10-year-old brain. Game Pass offers hundreds of games for PC, console, or both (using Game Pass Ultimate) at the cost of a few full-priced games a year. These games range from classics to day-one releases, from indie to third party to exclusives. Unlike streaming services, these titles are downloaded and have options for offline play.

Microsoft has been looking for ways to make the newest Xbox Series systems and their ecosystem the most user-forward and friendly option in gaming. Until recently, Xbox has been behind PlayStation in sales, exclusives, and public opinion after the botched launch of the Xbox One with forced Kinect usage (help me forget).

In that respect, Game Pass seeks to offer more than a PlayStation Plus subscription. Taking aim at PlayStation Now, Game Pass Ultimate (explained more below) bundles in Xbox Live Gold features, and offers the latest and greatest titles, day-one whereas Sony has been reluctant to sacrifice big names or new exclusives to their service.

What Comes With Xbox Game Pass?

A lot! But as with any Microsoft subscription, pricing can be confusing. The basic packages Game Pass for PC and Game Pass for Console are $9.99 per month. Each gives you access to hundreds of games—the difference is a few PC-only and console-only titles in each respective package. However, you won’t be able to play AAA titles online without having an Xbox Live Gold subscription which is an additional $9.99 per month (on console only).

For $14.99 per month, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate essentially bundles a Gold subscription($9.99/mo.) in with your Game Pass PC/Console package. Note that for free games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone Microsoft has waived the Xbox Live Gold requirement. If that’s all you want, purchasing a $9.99 Game Pass by itself might make sense.

While Game Pass Ultimate is a few bucks a month more expensive than any competing services from Stadia, PlayStation, and GeForce Now, it offers more value. PlayStation separates its game catalog from its online service (PS Now from PS Plus) making the total cost $20 a month, and you still need to stream most of the games. Stadia makes you purchase full titles only to have to pay a subscription ($9.99) to stream them (in anything higher than 1080p), and GeForce now is also streaming-based and limited to PC only.

Save a few bucks on your subscription

The Only Place for Day-One Access to Signature Titles

Over at Nintendo and Sony, you’d be hard-pressed to find Zelda, God of War, The Last of Us, or any of these heavy hitters available on subscription services. With Xbox Game Pass you can pre-load Halo: Infinite and play it on day one. Same with Forza Horizon 5, Gears of War, Starfield—all day-one titles on Game Pass.

Almost more impressive is the suite of titles outside of platform exclusives. Indie games, racing, third party, first party, online, single-player—literally hundreds of games ready to be downloaded. If classic games are your jam there are tons of backward compatible and retro titles: Banjo-Kazooie, Fable, Psychonauts, Oblivion, Crimson Skies, and more make up a solid lineup of Microsoft’s gaming past.

But Is Game Pass Too Good to Last?

It is tough to find true negatives to Game Pass, but there are more complex questions that Game Pass poses to the industry. The effect Game Pass might have on development and the scope of games could change things dramatically, with developers changing the way they design games or how big their budgets are to focus on Game Pass. Microsoft has already raised Game Pass pricing once, and it will likely do so in the future as it continues to grow. Honestly, everyone, including Microsoft, knows it is a steal already, so it is a matter of when, not if. So, while it is a steal now, it may not be in the future, and it may not have a sustainable model, or to sustain itself, it may become far too expensive for the average gamer.

Brand New Xbox Series X

An Xbox Series X box

What Are the Best Game Pass Games?

Halo Infinite: Coming Dec. 8, 2021

Where to get started when you have Xbox Game Pass? I’d go with Halo, a timeless classic. The art direction, the music, and the gameplay all endure and are as iconic as ever—despite some poorly aged missions (I’m looking at you The Library). The original Halo: Combat Evolved remains an essential game that kickstarted dual-stick console FPS games. After that, you can experience the entire series and the most recent entries in preparation for the much-anticipated Halo: Infinite.

Gears of War is a classic series that put cover-based shooting and chainsaw bayonets on the map. Every title is available, including the great Gears Tactics (an interesting X-COM influenced spin-off) as well as the original game and its remastered version for the purists. Gears 5 puts the series in a new direction, making it as good a time as ever to get into it.

The Forza series has been a staple of the Xbox Catalog for seven entries, and five in the arguably better Forza: Horizon spin-off titles. If you want gorgeous visuals, fantastic driving, and beautiful a beautiful open world, Forza Horizon 4 is ready to scratch that itch, and the fifth entry is just on the horizon (pun intended).

Coming Nov. 9 – Forza Horizon 5

With the recent acquisition of Bethesda and its deep catalog of classics, you can play genre-defining RPGs like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Or, dive into classic FPS titles like DOOM and the recently remastered Quake. But don’t look over the amazing stealth-action hybrid Dishonored, one of the greatest choice-driven games around, and explore iconic titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order, and the surreal Evil Within 2.

If a big budget isn’t your thing, Game Pass is overflowing with classic indie games new and old. The recently added Hades is an all-time instant rogue-like classic, with tight, frenetic combat, dynamic and creative storytelling, and incredible art. Spiritfarer is a heartfelt and emotional journey about death where you help lost souls on their way to the afterlife; or check out Subnautica, a survival game classic. Make sure not to miss out on Astroneer, a wonderful, cute take on base-building and space-faring exploration.

TL;DR – Is Game Pass Worth It?

Xbox Game Pass is a one-of-a-kind service that is unprecedented in comparison to other options, and it is only growing bigger and getting ever more games and options. So, is game pass worth it? Yes, but unfortunately things this good rarely last, and Game Pass lands in the realm of “too good to be true” in many ways. It is only a matter of time before prices increase, the variety of titles slows down, and big-name games start to question whether they want to be a part of the service, so enjoy it while it lasts. Microsoft usually holds a promotion where the first month only costs a dollar, no matter what service, so take the plunge and play all the great games you could ever want.

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Author Derek Swinhart

Hailing from the mountains of Vermont, Derek is a California-born lover of felines, tech, video games, music, and sci-fi lives with his wife and two cats. He has written for Game Informer Magazine, The Escapist, The Washington Post, and more about video games and the industry.

More posts by Derek Swinhart