The PS5 and the Xbox Series X have both been out for six months, and times have changed since November. After our initial PS5 review, I continued to play the system for a solid month — even though I liked the Xbox Series X better overall. I wondered when the pendulum would swing the other way, though, and I’d find myself immersed in Microsoft’s comprehensive ecosystem.
The answer, as it turned out, was “one month later.” Ever since late December, I’ve been absolutely glued to the Xbox Series X, letting my PS5 gather dust as I wait for the next big exclusive title. To be crystal clear, I like both systems. But at the moment, it’s much easier to find games to play on the Xbox Series X. The reason why is simple: Xbox Game Pass.
- Play the best PS5 games
- Also try the best Xbox Series X games
- Plus: The most awesome Game Boy clone ever just got a big delay
I’ve written about Xbox Game Pass in the past, and how Microsoft’s subscription service seemed poised to become an even better bargain as the months rolled on. Since last year, the company has added hundreds of titles, cloud gaming via Android and, more recently, day one releases from third-party developers. Xbox Game Pass now hosts a former Switch exclusive in Octopath Traveler, and will soon host a former PlayStation exclusive in MLB The Show 21.
While Xbox Game Pass isn’t cheap ($10 per month for the console package; $15 per month for the console-plus-PC package), it pretty much pays for itself if you play more than one game per month.
Sure, the Xbox Game Pass has pros and cons, like any other service. It has a huge library, but it’s also expensive. It has the latest and greatest Microsoft titles, but third-party games come and go frequently. It offers games across Xbox, PC and Android devices, but save syncing is extremely inconsistent from game to game. Still, one thing is absolutely certain: I’ve had absolutely no trouble finding new games to play ever since I first activated my membership.
The PS5 approach to new games
Because I have no desire for this piece to wind up as fodder in the ongoing (and ultimately meaningless) console wars, I will reiterate that I like the PS5 very much, and am excited for games like Returnal, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and God of War 2: Ragnarok. But Xbox Game Pass makes choosing a new game absolutely frictionless, whereas the PS5 hews to an older, less efficient model.
Consider my situation:
When the PS5 first came out, I was in the middle of reviewing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I transferred my save data from the PS4 and finished the rest of the game. Then I went on to the PlayStation-exclusive Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and the PS5-exclusive Demon’s Souls (which is still, far and away, the very best reason to buy the system).Once I was done with all three, it was time to pick a new game.
On the PS5, I had three options. I could scroll through the PlayStation Store (or visit a brick and mortar shop) until I found a game that caught my attention, then spend anywhere from $20 to $60 to buy it. If I didn’t like it, too bad; that money was gone either way.
The second option was to download one of the “free” games that came with my PlayStation Plus subscription. (They’re not really free, since PS Plus costs money. But PS Plus subscribers do get access to at least two downloadable games every month, in addition to the regular perks.) In December, these games included Worms Rumble, Just Cause 4 and Rocket Arena, none of which really piqued my interest.
The final option was to pick a game from Sony’s excellent PlayStation Plus Collection. This curated list of the PS4’s greatest hits lets PlayStation Plus subscribers download and play some fantastic titles, from Ratchet & Clank (2016) to Final Fantasy XV. However, I’d already played most of these titles back on the PS4.
Xbox Game Pass selections
That was when I decided that I’d been neglecting the Xbox Series X, and decided to see what it had on offer. I’d toyed around with Xbox Game Pass ever since Microsoft made a big push for it back at E3 2018. However, I realized the service had grown a lot since then, from a few dozen games to a few hundred.
When I reviewed the Xbox Series S, I’d been particularly taken with a game called Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and was curious to see what the series was all about. I could have spent $20 buying Yakuza 0 from the PSN Store — or I could just download it from Xbox Game Pass, which I did. Yakuza 0 hooked me right away, and I proceeded to download the next game, and the next game, and the next game, and so forth.
Having the entire Yakuza series at my disposal was a good start, but man cannot live on open-world brawlers alone. I also branched out into the Gears of War series, Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order and, more recently, Octopath Traveler. My domestic partner, who dabbles in games occasionally, had a great time with Night in the Woods, Slime Rancher and Viva Pinata.
Xbox Game Pass has two big advantages over buying games à la carte. Pricing is the most obvious. If I had bought each of the games mentioned above separately, I would have spent somewhere between $200 and $300. By contrast, one year of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate costs $180. We can debate the merits of owning these games vs. renting them indefinitely. But the fact is that if you tend to play a variety of games one time apiece, rather than a handful of games over and over, Xbox Game Pass is more cost-efficient.
However, the bigger draw is the complete lack of friction between wanting to play a game, and actually playing it. When you have to pay for a game up front — even a $10 or $20 game — every new game becomes a small cost-benefit analysis. Do I want that brand-new $60 game? What if I held off and got an older one for $20 instead? Should I play something from my backlog? What would even be the most fun right now?
Xbox Game Pass essentially eliminates that barrier entirely. If you see something you want to play, you download it and play it. I’ve downloaded games that I bounced off of immediately, and downloaded games that I’ve played for dozens of hours. The most you can risk is a few hours of your time — and perhaps another $15 if you pay month-to-month, and need more time to finish a game. The ability to go from “mildly curious” to “fully immersed” with a few strokes of a gamepad has helped me discover games I never would have thought to try before.
What else to play this year
Xbox Game Pass has made choosing new games so seamless, I haven’t done much PS5 or PC gaming in 2021, save for work assignments. As soon as I finish a game, there are hundreds more to try — including the next entries in long-running series. It’s difficult to pull yourself away when you’re in the middle of a good story.
Even so, I don’t think my fascination with Game Pass will last forever. There are a handful of great PS5 games on the horizon (Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is of particular interest), and PC is still the best platform if you really want to crank up a game’s graphical settings. As much as I’ve grown to enjoy Yakuza and Gears of War, you can only play any series for so long before it starts to get repetitive.
I also want to be cautious with how much I praise Xbox Game Pass. It’s a fantastic service at a reasonable price — and that makes me wonder whether it’s sustainable. Microsoft would hardly be the first company to entice new subscribers with a subscription that’s almost too good to be true, then start losing features and/or raising the cost over time. If Netflix can do it, anyone can.
Still, for the moment, Xbox Game Pass is arguably the best thing Microsoft has developed in the gaming space, even counting the Xbox Series X itself. The PS5 has a lot of room to grow in this space — although I have a few ideas on how that could happen.