Who would have thought that a franchise best known for featuring beefy heroes with chainsaw guns would also make for a solid strategy game? Gears Tactics almost feels like a miracle, delivering all of the thrills we’ve come to expect from the Gears universe, except it’s delivered through a traditional turn-based battle system. It’s basically XCOM meets Gears, without the punishing difficulty the former series is known for. If you’re more of an RPG fan than shooter hound, this is the Gears entry to start with.
Sea of Thieves
Rare’s pirate simulator is an acquired taste: It’s best experienced with friends, and has a deep learning curve that may turn off casual players. Still, it’s worth trying. In a time where so many games start to look like clones of popular franchises, Sea of Thieves sings to its own tune. It’s the ideal game for anyone who’s ever dreamed of sailing their own pirate ship through treacherous waters.
State of Decay 2
Zombie survival games are a dime a dozen these days, but even so the State of Decay series stands apart. This sequel refines the setup of the original game: You play as a zombie apocalypse survivor who has to build up a camp, recruit others, and keep the undead threat in check. Don’t go in expecting any sort of grand narrative. Like the best survival games, State of Decay 2 shines when it comes to emergent gameplay, or the adventures you have as you explore its complex systems.
One of the earliest Xbox One titles, Sunset Overdrive is a genuinely entertaining shooter that’s been practically forgotten over time. Insomniac Games crafted something that’s like a cross between Jet Set Radio, Prince of Persia and its own Ratchet & Clank series. It’s a gorgeous game that’ll find you grinding across power lines and air-dashing like your life depends on it as you explore an open-world dystopian city. And it has a grenade launcher that shoots dynamite teddy bears — how can you not love that?
The great thing about Xbox Game Pass is that there are always new games coming, and Microsoft is continually expanding the service with titles from EA Play and its upcoming Bethesda acquisition. Be sure to check out Control, which was easily the best game of 2019; Dragon Quest XI S, the debut of that long-running series on Xbox; and Nier: Automata, a genuine cult classic. Treat Game Pass like an all you can eat buffet and I’m sure you’ll find a few gems.