Interested in dipping your toes into the Game Pass waters during the holidays?

During your time on the internet, you’ve probably come across at least one article that calls Xbox Game Pass one of the best deals in gaming. Most prominent gaming news sites spend time each month detailing which games are coming to and leaving the service each month. Microsoft has been touting its “day one” Game Pass titles for a while now. So what exactly is Game Pass, and how can it make your holiday better?

I recently invested in an Xbox Series S and a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. (The Series X was both out of stock and out of my price range.) Game Pass is a Microsoft subscription service that allows players to play a rotating selection of games on PC, console, and mobile for one flat fee per month. Pretty much every title on the service is available to play on PC and console, though there are some exceptions. I have the Ultimate tier, which is $15 a month, but there are also console-only and PC-only subscriptions for less. You don’t need to own an Xbox as long as you own a decent PC or even a mobile device that you want to play games on.

I researched the game selection briefly before deciding to subscribe, but it wasn’t until I set up my Series S that I realized how deep the library of available games runs. Microsoft has made a big deal out of bringing big new first-party titles like Halo Infinite to the service. EA has also thrown their ring into the hat and included a bunch of their games. Pretty much all the major modern sports games are on the service, as are hot indies like Among Us and Stardew Valley.

The first Game Pass game I tried was Fallout: New Vegas, a 2010 game that’s been on my backlog for way too long. I had no hiccups or issues with play, and I found myself really enjoying the ease of setup and installation. New Vegas costs $10 on Steam. In playing it, Game Pass had already almost paid for itself.

Interested in dipping your toes into the Game Pass waters during the holidays? Here are five great games you can play on the service this winter.

Halo Infinite

The obvious first choice is Halo Infinite, the latest game starring the beloved Master Chief. The game’s multiplayer mode launched a few weeks ago and is free to play, but its single-player campaign just came out recently. Ordinarily, the game would run you $60 from a place like Amazon, but you can play it for free through Game Pass. It’s included on both the console and the PC versions of the service. Just make sure your PC is powerful enough to run it first – when I tried it out on my aging PC, most of the map textures didn’t load, leaving me staring through the floor into the abyss. It’s not the best way to play.

If you’re looking for something bombastic and traditionally AAA to play, Infinite fits that bill. Developer 343 Industries has taken careful steps to make this Halo adventure more traditional than Halos 4 and 5, both of which received mixed reviews for trying different things. The campaign doesn’t take too many hours to complete, so you won’t be stuck up in your bedroom or office for so long that your family gets mad at you, and the multiplayer is fun in that usual Halo way. Grab a couple of buddies and squad up to make the experience even better.

Unpacking

If you’re looking for something on the complete other end of the spectrum, Unpacking might be more your vibe. Shown off at this past year’s Wholesome Direct E3 showUnpacking is a simple puzzle game that explores how owned objects change over the course of one character’s life. It’s calm, charming, colorful, and a great way to relax after a tiresome family gathering. If you’re a fan of games like Stardew Valley and The Sims, Unpacking is likely right up your alley.

The game’s presence on Game Pass gives me hope for the future of wholesome games. Unpacking had a surprisingly large launch and a lot of hype surrounding it, which hopefully means that games that detail experiences other than combat are coming into a more respected position within gaming communities. It means a lot that a game of this type could be a Game Pass headliner along with titles like Halo Infinite, which speaks to the growing prestige of unique indie experiences. Unpacking‘s presence makes me more inclined to continue my Game Pass subscription in the future.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Did you get a huge new 4K TV for the holidays? Are you looking for something that will really show off your PC’s or Series X’s graphical fidelity? (The Series S looks great, but it’s not the most powerful thing on the market, sadly.) Want to entertain your folks in between rounds of Christmas pudding? Microsoft Flight Simulator is the perfect game to do any of these things. Be prepared to get plenty of oohs and aahs and “I can see my house from here!”s as you soar through the clouds like a giant, mechanical bird.

True to its name, Microsoft Flight Simulator isn’t even really a game – it’s a simulation. There are some gamified aspects to it, like choosing which plane you want to fly, but really it’s designed to let amateur pilots and flight enthusiasts live out their flying dreams. It’s a great pick if your relatives think that all video games still look like Pac-Man: give them a few minutes to play around with it and they’ll be hooked. My dad once told me about a friend he knew who went out and bought a Series X and Microsoft Flight Simulator on launch day simply so he could play it in glorious 4K. The guy had no interest in video games and no desire to play anything else; he just wanted his flight sim. That’s how devoted Microsoft Flight Simulator fans are.

Doom

Sometimes holiday gatherings lead to frustration. Old relatives with archaic views, friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and poorly-behaved kids can make even the most anticipated Christmas parties a nightmare. Instead of reaching for the spiked eggnog over and over again, just let your anger out with some good old-fashioned demon slaying. (No, I’m not talking about Demon Slayer on Netflix, though you could watch that too if you wanted.) Doom is the quintessential “no thoughts, head empty” action game.

Game Pass has all of the recent Doom remakes available as well as some of the older titles, like Doom 64. Depending on how old you are, you might remember when the first Doom came out and caused quite a stir among concerned parents and media advocacy groups. This is definitely a game you won’t want to play in front of the family or any small children. All the same, if you can’t stand to hear one more of your uncle’s weird, off-color jokes or watch yet another family-friendly movie, Doom is a great way to let off some holiday steam.

Hollow Knight

Some people just aren’t fans of winter holidays. If you consider yourself more of a spooky person than a festive person, Hollow Knight is the game for you. While it’s not an outright horror game like Resident Evil or Alien, it’s got a darker, moodier vibe. The game is a 2D action-adventure Metroidvania focused on exploration, solving area puzzles, and defeating creepy foes. I haven’t played it myself, but I’ve heard it’s got a fantastic, satisfying story and controls like a dream.

Like all the other games on this list, Hollow Knight can be purchased on other stores or digital storefronts. The game currently goes for $14.99 on Steam, meaning that if you got a Game Pass Ultimate subscription and only played Hollow Knight for an entire month, the subscription will have paid for itself. I might not have ever considered Hollow Knight if it wasn’t available on Game Pass – I have a low tolerance for puzzles, despite being the world’s biggest Portal fan – but being able to access it freely without having to worry about making a (small) financial investment is very nice. Who knows? Maybe I’ll love it!

Game Pass isn’t the only player in the game subscription market. Nintendo has created its own upgraded subscription service that gives players access to a small selection of N64 games, and rumor has it that Sony is developing a Game Pass competitor for PlayStation. The interest that other companies have in creating a similar service to Game Pass just goes to show how popular and well-received the idea has been. As it stands right now, there’s nowhere else you can get as wide a selection of quality games for such a good price.

Happy holiday gaming!