The most immersive Game Pass titles to improve 2021

Lockdowns and social restrictions look likely to last well into 2021. We’ve picked the most immersive and best Game Pass titles currently available to keep you going in these isolating times.

Despite mainstream media’s tendency to vilify video games, recent studies suggest that they can actually improve overall wellbeing and better your mood.

Playing through a lengthy RPG or tense survival game can help distract, escape, and stimulate senses in the brain that would otherwise be underused, particularly in this seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns and social isolation. They offer a unique ability to truly get lost somewhere else, where pandemics aren’t the norm and you don’t have to adhere to Slack messages all day from your bedroom.

It’s no coincidence that the gaming industry has boomed in the past year thanks to COVID-19, with revenue surpassing $159 billion USD in 2020. Xbox’s Game Pass, the subscription model that gives you access to hundreds of games for a small monthly fee, almost doubled its paying customer base in 2020.

Many of us are clearly itching for something to do. With a huge number of titles to pick from, Game Pass has been an obvious choice for those looking to dive into new stories and characters.

But where to start, and what’s truly worth playing? If you’re a new subscriber or gamer looking to be pointed in the right direction, we’ve picked out seven Game Pass titles that’ll help alleviate the mental taxation our currently reality brings. Each one has a ton of lore, sprawling universes, and tense moments to get truly absorbed in, and they’re all available right now.


The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

CD Projekt Red is in the pits right now with its botched and messy Cyberpunk 2077 launch, but it wasn’t always this way. In 2015 the studio released its third instalment of the critically acclaimed Witcher series, introducing an open world to the franchise that was full of quests, hunting contracts, and even treasure hunts.

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is the perfect option if you’re in desperate need of something to lose yourself in. You take on the role of Geralt, a monster hunter in search of his surrogate daughter Ciri. Expect bizarre side quests, dragons, relationship drama – it’s basically Game of Thrones without that dodgy ending.

There are hundreds of hours of content here, and you’ll no doubt find yourself fully addicted to the ins and outs of the world of Witcher. It’s available indefinitely too, at least for now, so you’ve got some time to sink your evenings into this RPG masterpiece.


Outer Wilds

This one’s a bit different to many others on this list. Outer Wilds is a time-loop, puzzle solving, space travelling adventure full of intrigue, mystery, and perhaps even a little confusion during your first time through it.

The game begins with an astronaut making their way into space for the first time. Due to some unfortunate mishaps, you wind up exploring your home planet before the sun explodes. Everything resets, except your character remembers all that happened before your untimely demise.

Players use this loop mechanic to slowly piece together the meaning of the universe on offer in Outer Wilds. It’s bursting with ambiguity and atmosphere as you traverse between one planet to the next in search of answers. We’d recommend diving in without looking this one up online – the more blind you are to its design, the better.


Alien: Isolation

It might seem a little counterintuitive to suggest playing through a horror game set in deep space where the sole objective is to avoid the clutches of a terrifying Xenomorph, but we promise it’s worth it.

Released in 2014, Alien Isolation was finally the good Alien game that fans had been dreaming of since the original film came out back in 1979. Set 15 years later, you’ll spend most of your time hiding behind boxes, inside vents, and generally trying to stay alive as best you can. The atmosphere is nail-bitingly tense and you’ll be jumping out of your chair more than once.

Try playing this one with some top end headphones and the lights off. You won’t have time to be stressing over lockdown conditions when your main objective is to not absolutely cack yourself at the sight of a gigantic Xenomorph in a tight hallway.


Astroneer

If you gave No Man’s Sky a go when it first released in 2016 or loved Minecraft back in the day, Astroneer could be the next open-world sandbox title for you. It was in early access for several years before officially launching in 2019 and now has a feverish cult following on PC. There are no real objectives in Astroneer, aside from colonizing planets and building structures in any way you wish.

Each planet – which can be traversed extensively – is coded via procedural generation, meaning no two planets are alike and each person’s individual experience is different. You’re given a terrain tool to gather objects and reshape the land, with a 3D printer to produce structures and help you create new civilisations.

An in-depth oxygen system helps to keep things tense too, and you’ll no doubt lose hours exploring this gorgeous, unique looking exploration title. Fans mention how relaxing Astroneer can be and it’s perhaps the best one on this list for casual gamers who want something to dip in and out of.


Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Similar to Witcher 3, Dragon Quest XI is a vast story-based adventure that’ll demand hundreds of hours of your life to see its complete end. This series has always been a JRPG staple, with well-established turn-based mechanics and cosy character dynamics at its core.

You play as the chosen ‘luminary’, a character destined for heroic greatness against the forces of evil, because of course. The game’s delivery includes all the Japanese storytelling goodness you’d expect, with some odd and questionable moments here and there. Bright colours and an expansive world map keep it fresh and the script writing is strong enough to ride through to its conclusion, even after you’ve spent literal weeks with it.

The Game Pass offering is also the definitive version with every single piece of content from all other platforms. If you get started on this one you can expect to be obsessed for months – we know we were.


Fallout: New Vegas

Another lengthy game, Fallout: New Vegas is routinely considered the strongest of the modern Fallout titles and is ironically the only one not developed directly by Bethesda. Matthew Perry makes a cameo too, for any Friends fans out there who wondered what Chandler might sound like if he was engrossed in a post nuclear apocalypse.

Your character is known as the Courier and is ambushed while delivering a package across a wasteland version of Las Vegas now known as New Vegas. After being left for dead, the Courier seeks revenge and attempts to recover the lost package, which will see you making friends with the locals and determining who has power over the region.

Anyone who’s played an Elder Scrolls game will know what you’re in for with this one. Plenty of things to do, open ended game design, and some top tier writing. It’s an RPG essential, and the best Fallout game to get properly immersed in.


Final Fantasy VII

This classic from 1997 is credited with bringing JRPGs and long-form action-based storytelling games to Western audiences, and so much of its design and DNA can be found in other titles since its release. Hugely influential and amazingly well crafted, Final Fantasy VII remains a thorough romp – even with 2020’s remake.

The game’s protagonist is Cloud, an ‘ex-soldier’ who arrives in an industrial, dystopian city known as Midgar and winds up joining forces with a rebel group known as AVALANCHE. As far as plots go, Final Fantasy VII becomes significantly more complex a few hours in, and we won’t ruin it for you here.

With lovable characters and relationships, this Square Enix PlayStation 1 title still holds up, though you will have to contend with come clunky graphics and depth issues every so often. A perfect introduction to RPGs if you’ve never tried them before, and one we thoroughly recommend.

There you have it, our top Game Pass picks to get you through 2021. Game Pass is likely to continue to grow in popularity as the pandemic drags further into this decade, and big publishers like EA have already partnered with the platform to help boost those numbers further.

Time to start cracking into these titles, eh? Everyone deserves a break from the stressful, virus laden mess we’re all currently surrounded by.

@thredmag

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