The Xbox Series X has finally been released, bringing with it the ability to play games in a cool 4K 120fps. As I discussed in my review, it's a pretty powerful console, its only real drawback being the lack of a true killer app. But if there's anything that differentiates the Xbox Series X from its competition, it's Microsoft's subscription service: Xbox Game Pass.
First released back in 2017, Xbox Game Pass has grown into an impressive service, boasting 10 million subscribers as of April 2020. Destiny 2: Beyond Light is one of several heavy hitters available this month, and EA is throwing its weight behind the service by giving subscribers full access to the EA Play library. Even Disney Plus is getting in on the act with a free month for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers—just in time for the release of The Mandalorian's second season.
In short, if you are getting an Xbox Series X, I strongly recommend getting Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well. More than specs, it's the true differentiator between the Xbox Series X and it's nearest competition, the PlayStation 5. Let's break it all down.
Game Pass Basics
The Xbox Game Pass comes in three different flavors: console, PC, and Ultimate. The PC and console versions cost $9.99 per month, while Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will run you $14.99 per month. The extra five dollars will net you exclusive deals and perks, such as the aforementioned Disney Plus trial, as well as access to cloud gaming on Android devices, and crucially, Xbox Live Gold—the service required to access online multiplayer.
|Basic Service||Access to rotating selection of Xbox Series X, Xbox One Xbox 360, and Xbox games||Access to rotating selection of PC games||Access to rotating selection of Xbox Series X, Xbox One Xbox 360, and Xbox games|
|Day 1 Xbox Game Studio Releases||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Member Discounts||Yes, with additional exclusives||Yes||Yes|
|Cloud Gaming Access||Yes, available on Android devices||No||No|
|Xbox Live Gold (Required for Multiplayer Access)||Yes||No||No|
It's obvious that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the version Microsoft hopes people will pick up. Aside from labeling it the "best value," Microsoft is offering the first month of Ultimate for just one dollar. All told, it's an extremely enticing value, not the least because it bundles together multiplayer access and Microsoft's game library. Honestly, unless you have no plans to play multiplayer at all (possible!), there's no reason not to spring for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Some of the Best Xbox Game Pass Games
If you do decide to purchase an Xbox Game Pass subscription, you will gain immediate access to a large library of downloadable games. Almost all of these games have been out for a few years now—remember Quantum Break?—but that doesn't make the selection any less impressive. Browsing the Xbox Game Pass library reminds me of Nickelodeon's old Super Toy Run competitions, where one lucky kid would get to dash around a toy store tossing as many video games as possible into the cart.
There are a lot of games worth playing on the service, especially now that EA Play's library is available as well, but these are some of the games that I would recommend starting with:
Destiny 2: Beyond Light: Look, at this point you're either in on Destiny or you're not in on Destiny. But if you've somehow missed out on Bungie's generation-defining service game, Xbox Game Pass is a great place to give it a shot. In addition to featuring the new expansion, Beyond Light, it includes numerous enhancements for Xbox Series X, which bumps it to 4K 60fps. Hardly a true flagship killer app, but impressive nevertheless.
Forza Horizon 4 The Xbox One's best exclusive roars on to Xbox Game Pass with a free backward compatibility update that greatly enhances its load times while touting 4K 60fps visuals. It was a beautiful game on the previous-gen Xbox One X, and even if you're not a racing fan (I'm not, but I love it anyway), it's well worth picking up.
Titanfall 2: We named the oft-overlooked sequel to Titanfall one of the 10 best games of the decade, mainly because it includes one of the best shooter campaigns of all time. Its boundlessly creative levels include "Effects and Cause," which bring time-travel shenanigans into play, and "The Beacon," which has a moment that game designer Doc Burford called "maybe the best 18 seconds in video gaming." Seriously, play it.
Witcher 3: You may be tired of hearing it, but it's still worth repeating: Witcher 3 is the best game of the PS4 generation. What's more, it benefits from massively improved load times on the Xbox Series X, making it all the more accessible. Witcher 3 is not a light undertaking, and with Cyberpunk 2077 just around the corner, you may want to wait. But seriously, play it at least once, if only for the Bloody Baron quest.
Tetris Effect: Connected: One of the Xbox Series X's handful of timed exclusives, Tetris Effect: Connected is an expansion of Tetsuya Mizuguchi's trippy take on the classic puzzle series, which we absolutely loved. While the Xbox version doesn't feature VR (boo), it does add in local co-op and competitive multiplayer, and includes crossplay with the PC and Xbox One as well. Consider it a colorful palette cleanser after an extended session with Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
With its large selection of games; inclusion of Xbox Live Gold, and numerous added perks, it should be obvious that Xbox Game Pass is an essential pickup with the Xbox Series X. Indeed, Microsoft designed it that way. The Xbox Series X is nothing so much as a very powerful Game Pass delivery device; a vessel for Microsoft's ambitions to create the "Netflix of Games."
It may well pay off. The PlayStation 5, which launches on Thursday, includes several free PS4 games, but otherwise the closest equivalent Sony can offer to Xbox Game Pass is PlayStation Now, which lags behind Game Pass both in terms of content and Sony's willingness to release Day 1 exclusives on it. That may well change in the next year or two, but for now, Microsoft can claim the initiative in the coming video game subscription wars.
As I explained in my review, none of this makes Xbox Series X worth picking up by itself. Powerful as it is, it still lacks a defining next-gen experience. If you do decide to invest early, though, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate should absolutely be part of the bundle. It's not just Microsoft's future; it may be the future of gaming as well.