It feels like a long while since I strapped in for an adventure to the stars (last time it was with Elite Dangerous, and it turned out to be less of an adventure and more of a 'getting lost in the endless void of deep space'). When it comes to exploring the galaxy and beyond, I need an at least somewhat curated experience: pamphlets, visual indicators, an irascible ship's computer that will tell me what planet I'm looking at. Y'know, the basic stuff.
With Starfield hitting PC Game Pass next month like an extermination event asteroid, now feels like a great time to wet our collective whistle by spending time with a bunch of the best interstellar games available on the service. So I threw on the ol' pressure suit, topped up the shuttle's windscreen wiper fluid, and got ready to blast off. Here's what I discovered.
Game of the Month: Everspace 2
The big new supernova space game on Game Pass right now is unquestionably Everspace 2. Rocking an excellent '85' score here on PC Gamer, it builds on the space-trading-and-combat spirit of the classic Freelancer, but gravitates more towards a bountiful lootfest ("Diablo in space," our Ian Evenden called it). Get in dogfights against space pirates and roaming elites, accrue XP, then use that to upgrade your vessel with all manner of shields, guns, and other space tech.
This is a gorgeous game on a pretty tight scale; you'll see planets haloed in shimmering atmospheres, minefields ominously glowing red in the darkness, and debris floating around ruined transport vessels, inviting you to plunder them. Those wary of being overwhelmed by intricate space sim controls will be pleased to hear that Everspace 2 is accessible and arcadey too.
It's a whole lot of action with a hint of exploration, perfect for those whose idea of fun in space is Star Wars rather than Stellaris.
The Outer Worlds
This is probably the closest game to the ballpark of 'Bethesda-style RPG in space.' Made by one of the most treasured devs in the business, Obsidian, The Outer Worlds is a bright and quirky jaunt around a corporate-owned solar system. It's full of gags, fun characters, and vibrant planetary biomes to hop between.
Don't expect rich, dark questing or factional politics like in Obsidian's other gem, Fallout: New Vegas (also available on Game Pass, by the way), but if you're looking for a refreshingly short and sharply written RPG that'll give you a sugary trip to space before Starfield, The Outer Worlds will slot in perfectly.
It'd be remiss of me not to pick a representative from Game Pass' vast library of indie games, and last year's soothing, synthy RPG Citizen Sleeper has earned that spot. Shelve your dreams of interplanetary exploration for a moment, and settle in for an intimate story aboard a space station that's been taken over by a host of interesting factions and characters.
You play as a 'sleeper', a synthetic being in a human body, who's escaped from corporate control and made a home in this station run by blue-collar workers, revolutionaries, and renegades. In the spirit of tabletop RPGs, everything you do is based around dice rolls, which will propel you through a branching narrative where you try to make a living in a tough environment, evade your corporate captors, and uncover tons of intimate little side-stories on the way.
No Man's Sky
If your space fantasies revolve around exploring an endless cosmos, then No Man's Sky's promise of a billion (or something) planets is a seductive one. The game had an infamously bad landing back in 2016, but its journey towards fulfilling its initial promise since then has been pretty sensational.
The game's neon-coloured procedurally generated cosmos, which lets you seamlessly fly into the atmosphere of and touch down on any planet you see, still looks great today, and over the years the game's added things like base-building, multiplayer, vehicles, underwater exploration, better space combat, and cohesive questing and stories.
For all these layers, No Man's Sky is an exploration game at heart, and at the very least it's great for dipping into for a few weeks, planting your flag on some cool-looking planets, photographing some weird creatures, then moving on.
Those are my picks, but of course there's plenty more on Microsoft's subscription service. So, in the spirit of the great space explorers, head out to those far reaches of the Game Pass galaxy and see what you uncover.