Xbox Game Pass provides access to a huge library of games for a monthly fee, including a crop of essential historical games. They include wartime shooters in the form of Sniper Elite 4 and expansive historical strategy games like Crusader Kings III.
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.
Below we’ve collected, in no particular order, the 15 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 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. Raji: An Ancient Epic
A rare title to draw from the deep well of ancient Indian mythology, Raji: An Ancient Epic is a platforming action game developed by Nodding Heads Games, based in Pune, India. Bestowed with great power by Hindu divinities, Raji must rescue her brother from the demon lord Mahabalasura. Her quest is a reflection of Rama’s quest to rescue Siti in the Ramayana.
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.
12. Crusader Kings III
A sprawling simulator of medieval rule, Crusader Kings III provides a step-up from Total War but isn’t so daunting to put off newcomers. Political intrigue and securing heirs is the focus of the unpredictable sandbox, which has a marvellous capacity to generate alternate historical timelines.
13. Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
TABS simulates pitched battles between ancient and outlandish soldiers, each of whom has only a rudimentary grasp of force, matter and motion. These soldiers, which can be customised in a unit creator, are constantly falling over themselves. If you enjoy the spectacle of historical real-time strategy games, but wish it was much sillier, try TABS.
14. Yes, Your Grace
Yes, Your Grace is a kingdom management RPG dressed up in handsome pixel art garb. Each turn, the player must decide how to respond to different petitioners, some of them not entirely honest, balancing their proposals and demands with the needs of the kingdom.
Developed by Supergiant Games, creators of the beautiful action RPGs Bastion and Transistor, Hades sends you to the underworld of ancient Greek mythology. There you’ll battle your way out of hell, befriend Cerberus and explore a remarkably atmospheric and characterful setting.