Xbox Game Pass: The ultimate gaming gift

(CNN) —  

The PS5 and Xbox Series X have been at the center of the holiday gaming rush, with people around the world frantically scouring every major retailer in hopes of bringing a next-gen console home. But you don’t need either of them to enjoy the best thing happening in games right now.

In a year dominated by excitement around new hardware, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service has steadily and quietly cemented itself as the ultimate value in gaming. It’s the best attempt yet at a true Netflix for video games, and now that you don’t even need a console or PC to enjoy it, Game Pass is the perfect holiday gift for just about any type of gamer.

For the uninitiated, Xbox Game Pass is a multi-tiered subscription service that gives you access to more than 100 games on a variety of platforms. For $10 a month you can get either a console or PC subscription, with the former giving you access to tons of games you can play across Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

Stepping up to the $15-per-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier gets you the full console and PC libraries — plus all of the online benefits and free games that come with Xbox Live Gold. Oh, and you also get exclusive discounts, in-game content and the ability to stream many of Game Pass’ best games directly to your Android device.

These games are the real deal, too — we’re talking big names like Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, Destiny 2 and Doom Eternal. Every new Microsoft game comes to Game Pass the day it’s released, so you’ll automatically get hotly anticipated titles such as Halo: Infinite and Fable as part of your subscription.

Game Pass keeps growing in significant ways, too. The service now includes the full EA Play library, giving you access to a huge catalog of Star Wars, Battlefield, Mass Effect and EA Sports games. And now that Microsoft owns mega-publisher Bethesda, you can expect franchises such as Fallout, The Elder Scrolls and Doom to fully come into the fold. That’s a whole lot of games from gigantic franchises for a single monthly fee.

Despite having “Xbox” in the name, you don’t even need a console to take advantage of Xbox Game Pass. PC gamers can enjoy many of the service’s top games, and there are even some Windows-exclusive titles, including Microsoft Flight Simulator and the Age of Empires series. Better yet, PC titles such as Gears 5 and Sea of Thieves are cross-compatible with Xbox, meaning you can play them with your console friends and keep your progress between platforms.

But where Xbox Game Pass really opens itself up to millions of potential new players is with its Android support. Nearly 200 titles on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate are playable on Android phones and tablets via cloud streaming, from big names such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Halo 5 to popular indies such as Celeste and Hello Neighbor. All you need is a supported mobile device, a decent Wi-Fi or cellular connection and a Bluetooth controller, and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, Game Pass Ultimate streaming isn’t available on iOS just yet due to Apple’s App Store rules, but Microsoft is already working on getting it to iPhone and iPad users.

While you don’t need an Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S to enjoy Game Pass, the service is absolutely essential for anyone who’s been lucky enough to snag one of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. Many Game Pass titles including Gears Tactics, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Tetris Effect: Connected and Forza Horizon 4 come fully optimized for Series X and S, giving you plenty of ways to push your shiny new console to the limit for a single fee.

And if the Xbox Series X or Series S is your first Xbox console in a while (or ever), Game Pass is the perfect way to catch up on what you missed. Microsoft’s service provides access to a ton of classic Xbox and Xbox 360 games, allowing you to enjoy essentials such as Alan Wake, Dead Space, Ninja Gaiden Black and Fable complete with all of the performance benefits of the new consoles.

Xbox Game Pass has long been one of the best values in gaming, and it’s only gotten better now that you can enjoy it on a wide range of devices — including your phone. Whether the gamer in your life is just starting to dip their toes in or has a fancy PC rig, an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription is a no-brainer gift that will give them access to a ton of great games for a low price.

If you’re shopping for a lucky PS5 owner, we recommend checking out PlayStation Plus ($10 per month; $60 per year) instead. In addition to unlocking online play and delivering free games every month, Sony’s paid online service also grants access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, a library of 20 essential PS4 games including God of War, The Last of Us: Remastered and Uncharted 4. Switch gamers can check out the Nintendo Switch Online service ($20 per year), which gives access to a large library of classic Nintendo and Super Nintendo games.

But for those not devoted to PlayStation or Nintendo, Xbox Game Pass is the best holiday gift you can give to the gamer on your list (or yourself, we won’t judge).

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