Xbox Game Pass provides access to a huge library of games for a monthly fee, including a crop of essential historical games. If it wasn’t already the best deal in gaming in 2021, the expansion of Xbox Cloud Gaming cements its status.
Subscribers to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate can either visit xbox.com/play on their browser or download the Game Pass App on their Android or iOS device, and instantly stream over 100 high-quality games. It mostly works very well, with little of the cutting and lag that used to typify game streaming.
Below we’ve collected, in no particular order, the 11 best historical games on Xbox Game Pass. The games available on each platform vary, so our picks specify whether they’re only available with Xbox Game Pass for PC or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
1. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition (PC)
There is no escaping Age of Empires on this list. The regent of historical real-time strategy for over 20 years, Age of Empires II is a classic encompassing 1,000 years of human history. Its multiplayer scene has continued to grow, while its Definitive Edition incarnation gives it an eye-catching remaster.
2. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition (PC)
The hybrid elements of Age of Empires III made it a little quirky on release in 2006 and struggled to convince Age of Empires II’s champions to jump ship. However its RPG-like management and alternative visuals ensure it’s a fresh real-time strategy experience. Its campaigns told stories about the colonisation of the Americas, sometimes taking worthy leads from dissenting narratives.
3. A Plague Tale: Innocence
As plague rips through 1349 France, the player controls child heroes Amicia and her younger brother Hugo through devastated villages. It’s a compelling stealth game, involving rats and a landscape inspired by its developers’ experiences in south west France.
4. Unto the End
Unto the End is a 2D, combat-focused platformer that demands a bit more subtlety than players might expect. Combat is governed by a ‘read-react’ approach, which results in more deliberate and tense encounters. The player will reunite a Viking dad with his family, fighting through mountains and caverns. It’s a strong, small game that’s perfectly suited to Game Pass.
5. Sniper Elite 4
Rebellion set their fourth iteration of this tactical third-person shooter in wartime Italy. Its levels are vast and the game design encourages players to find their own routes through them. It’s a smart approach on the stealth game that can also be played cooperatively with up to three other players.
6. Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves is a historical game in the sense that players pilot very big sailing ships across the ocean and dress up like pirates, and when was the last time you saw that happening?
Sea of Thieves has grown bigger and better over the years since it launched, and it now offers some of the best co-op experiences on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also one of the limited number of games that can be played on Xbox Cloud Gaming with touch controls.
7. Red Dead Online
Included with Xbox Game Pass is Red Dead Online, which presents a jaw-dropping interpretation of frontier America at the turn of the twentieth century. While the original story mode is not on Game Pass, its impressive world is fully navigable in its online mode. Playing the feat of technology that is Red Dead Online on a mobile phone also makes for a slightly surreal experience.
8. Battlefield V (PC and Ultimate)
Folding EA Play into Xbox Game Pass has bolstered its library of historical games with the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield 1 is present, and so are the series entries with modern settings, but Battlefield V is the best pick. The scale of confrontations and the geographical breadth of the game make it an essential World War Two game, while it retains timeless arcade action.
9. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Celtic warrior Senua’s journey through Hell for the soul of her dead lover is at the centre of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It’s big on sound, visuals and atmosphere, and has some tricky combat too. Perhaps its most novel feature is the way it depicts psychosis. It’s a unique game that was recognised with five BAFTAs in 2018.
10. Company of Heroes 2: Complete Collection (PC)
The complete collection of Company of Heroes 2 is available on Xbox Game Pass for PC. Its fantastic real-time strategy makes uses of cover, line of sight, suppression and a whole lot of incredible detail. Its included expansions mean campaigns incorporate the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Stalingrad.
11. Empire of Sin
A tactical strategy game, Empire of Sin takes players to 1920 Chicago and asks them to lead one of 14 competing families. The narrative gives the game spark, while its turn-based combat is effective if repetitive. Some elements of its design may disappoint: cover is not that reliable, which is a bit of a let-down in a tactics game.