Game Pass has been well established for a few years now, but an argument can be made that its strongest year yet was 2021. For a long time, the best part of Game Pass has been the ability to play new games at launch on day one. This has given a lot of us the chance to try new games we never had before, but until now there hasn’t been much from Microsoft itself to really sell us on that idea. That was until 2021 when multiple Microsoft owned studios released gems that turned Game Pass into something Xbox owners should get to a service that anyone interested in video games needs. With Game Pass solidifying itself throughout 2021 and expanding its services deeper onto the PC, it’s become an important part of how we look at video games. When a game releases the first question many people have will be “Is that on Game Pass?” That alone signifies how important the service is to video games as a whole now.
All of that made us ask the question, what makes a game a “Game Pass” game? We didn’t want to just pick the five best Xbox exclusives, because that’s boring, but instead chose five games that we felt defined the service in its own unique way, and why it’s better than ever. These are our 2021 Game Pass games of the year.
We adored Psychonauts 2. Its creative level design, fantastic writing, and theming made for a game that is going to deservedly be on many lists for Game of The Year. It also was one of those first major Microsoft-owned studio games to release directly to Game Pass. Its success since then is proof of the formula working. The game was a huge success and we’re willing to bet nowhere near as many people would have played it with a $60 price tag, and that would have been a shame. The original Psychonauts, while a cult classic, flew under the radar. Thanks to Game Pass, there was no chance of Psychonauts 2 ever doing that.
Halo Infinite was supposed to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X/S. Obviously, that didn’t happen. While the delay worked out to the game’s benefit, there are very obvious signs in the campaign and multiplayer that it had to be patched up before it could release. The weird part is, for the most part, nobody really cares. The multiplayer is free-to-play, the campaign’s $60 price tag is completely waved off through Game Pass, and everyone is having a really fun time playing it. This is the perfect example of how Game Pass can change how someone may feel about a game. The campaign not being completely ready at launch would have been frustrating for $60, but on Game Pass it’s just another of the many games receiving frequent updates.
Sea of Thieves
This is kind of cheating, because Sea of Thieves was released all the way back in 2018, but to have a list of Game Pass games that represented 2021 and not include Sea of Thieves would be ignoring how important that game is to the service. Sea of Thieves is an example of a game that has seen success directly because of Game Pass. When it first launched it was considered a disappointment because the content in the game, while fun, was shallow. Now, in 2021, it’s full of content, and more people are playing it than ever. This is the game that, before this year, was the reason many people got Game Pass and it’s part of why many people will continue to get it.
Back 4 Blood
Do you ever scroll through Netflix, or Hulu, or any of those services and you’re not feeling anything, but you feel like watching a movie so you just settle on an above-average action flick? That experience is why Back 4 Blood is perfect for Game Pass. By itself, Back 4 Blood is a perfectly okay game that doesn’t blow you away. It set out to be an unofficial Left 4 Dead sequel and it achieved that goal, but it’s not a game that would be worth a full price tag to many people. Now, a game to be played for a weekend or two with friends on Game Pass? That is where Back 4 Blood shines. It is a perfect game for when nobody can decide what they want to play, so they jump on for a round of shooting zombies together. It’s an above-average action flick and you’re never unhappy you decided to start playing.
For a lot of people, Hades was their Game of The Year in 2020. The rogue-like that everyone couldn’t help but fall in love with, but unfortunately when it came out it was only available on PC and Switch. That meant a whole lot of people didn’t get to experience one of the best games of 2020. This year, it came out on Game Pass, and a whole lot of new people got to experience what a delight Hades is for the first time. This is one of the best features of Game Pass. Getting to experience, and sometimes re-experience, older games that could have been missed the first time. Everyone needs the opportunity to play Hades and Game Pass helped make sure everyone did.