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XBOX Game Pass for PC: An Insight

About the Author: 

Hello and welcome to my first review! I’m happy to be reviewing Xbox Game Pass, a service I have been using since its launch on PC.  

Before we get into the nitty gritty, a bit about me as the author of this article: I got into PC gaming with Battlefield 1942. I was highly intrigued by the open-ended gameplay and vehicular combat, so much so that I was able to convince my parents to buy a powerful (at the time) PC for the family. I remember it like it was yesterday, an HP Pavilion, 2.53ghz Pentium 4 with a GeForce 4600Ti 128mb. I was living the dream in a golden age of PC gaming. Much later on in my early 20’s I worked for Digital Storm as the manager of the assembly department for about a year, where I must have built at least a thousand computers while training others to do the same. After that I moved on to other jobs, but I maintain a custom computer assembly and repair business to this day, just as a side job for anyone who happens to find me online. Soo with my PC-gamer credentials out of the way, let’s move on to the review! 

 

XBOX Game Pass: 

For anyone unfamiliar, Xbox Game Pass is subscription-based service with two tiers, a PC only tier that does not include any streaming for $10 a month and a $15 tier that includes console, PC, and Streaming. The service itself works similar to something like Netflix, in which users get access to a select library of games to play for a monthly fee. Just like with Netflix, first party content is added day-one and is permanent but third-party content rotates in and out. In that sense it’s unique from Steam, though Steam does offer EA’s subscriptions service which was the first subscription service to market that’s similar to Xbox game pass. Just Like EA’s subscription service, you can also buy games through the app and having a subscription gives a 10% discount. Xbox game pass also now includes all of EA’s subscription service games at no additional cost, though it is possible to get EA’s subscription service for less but itself if you pay yearly instead of monthly. 

In a sense Xbox Game Pass (XGP) today reminds me of Steam when it first launched. I remember buying the Orange Box, which for those unfamiliar, was a game bundle that included Half Life 2 and Portal 1 as well as a few others. In order to use it, you had to install Steam, and this was the first-time gamers on a large scale were forced to install an extra program to verify and update their games for non MMO titles, and gamers hated it! Extra apps just to run a game? What an intrusive idea, especially on the precious CPU cycles of the hardware of the time, and running Steam in the background definitely made a difference back then! Today we have grown to not only accept Steam for PC gaming, but it’s become so ubiquitous and dominant in the PC gaming industry, it’s hard to imagine PC gaming without it. Back then, on PC we saw major publishers that tried to compete with Steam release their own digital PC game distribution platforms. Today we see the industry moving in a new direction where major gaming companies are trying to offer more value in bundle form. Similar to how Netflix changed the industry for movies, it’s hard not to wonder if XGP is one of the first of many platforms designed to change the gaming industry in the same way. With that all in mind how does Game Pass stack-up? 

 

Preface: 

I feel the need to preface that many gamers are skeptical of services like XGP due to fears that it will someday replace more traditional methods of buying games. I don’t personally worry about that taking place, and I think gamers will be able to buy games for full price on platforms like Steam for any foreseeable future, but however you feel about a Netflix like subscription model vs buying games individually, it’s not the purpose of this review to debate the future of the gaming industry, just to comment on and review how Xbox Game Pass works and what it’s currently offering. Steam is ultimately what I use the most, and in my opinion, is one of the biggest competitors to XGP which is why I feel it’s a reasonable point of comparison. 

 

User Interface: 

First off let’s talk about what Xbox game pass is not. XPG is not a replacement for Steam in any sense at all. It lacks cohesion of almost all basic features from chat, to simply looking to see if a game has been updated recently. While the interface is aesthetically nice, it offers little in the way of functionality beyond a very basic game browsing interface. Compared to Steam, XPG is well behind on the UI. It has basic features like chat, but not much beyond that. No pages for update info, no community pages, nothing like that at all. To be fair, all the other similar PC game platforms are also well behind Steam in essentially the same ways. In that sense Xbox game pass is similar to the competition that is already lagging well behind the industry standard. In many ways it’s superior to the other programs that compete with Steam, offering a very clean interface, but also, reviews! Reviews are something that most other platforms lack.

XBOX Game Pass for PC: An Insight

reviews are extremely helpful on Xbox Game Pass because of the nature of XGP which dictates that some games don’t always work the way they should. it’s very encouraging to see a platform like this embrace user reviews while still in the ironing board phase. One would imagine a big part of the reason EA didn’t release their games on Steam for so long is simply because they couldn’t control the review process (right now BF2042 is one of the most negatively rated games on Steam). It’s very healthy to see a major company have an unfiltered response from users on their own platform. Uplay and Origin both lack this basic feature. In my opinion this is an essential ingredient to success, as no major platform feels good to use if users don’t feel they can offer any feedback. In that sense it’s very encouraging to see XGP embracing the negativity that comes with its new-ness in the industry. Many games on XGP are flooded with negative reviews about bugs and improper launch issues that simply don’t exist on other platforms and to see these floods of negative reviews gives me hope for the future of game pass because it shows that nothing is being covered up. Even on Microsoft’s own titles you can find a few games that have been flooded with bad reviews simply because of launch issues. It’s by no means the norm, but just like on Steam, games can get review bombed if they have issues.  

 

Game Bar:  

This is perhaps the one aspect of the UI that has some advantages. Game Bar is essentially the in-game overlay, though it can be used at any time in Windows by pressing the Windows key + G, or by pressing the center Xbox button on a controller. As far as I know, Uplay is the only other major digital PC game distribution program that allows the user to access the in-game overlay from the controller. It can feel a little clunky, but Game Bar can be fully controlled with a controller. With Game Bar you can access standard features like chat, but also performance data, the task manager, there’s Spotify integration, it’s fairly fleshed out. It’s definitely one aspect where things actually feel a bit ahead of the competition. 

XBOX Game Pass for PC: An Insight

Gaming: 

Despite a few outliers, the vast majority of games on Xbox game pass work perfectly. Doom Eternal it’s one such game. Recent Doom games have a reputation for running extremely well on any platform and that promise is not broken on Xbox game pass. I played this game with the settings set to max, ray tracing included, and dynamic resolution enabled. I had an incredibly good experience, framerate was incredibly smooth, and I was surprised to see dynamic resolution didn’t produce any hiccups as the resolution scaled to fit the frame rate, with ray tracing, on an AMD card at that! Gaming wise, there’s usually parity between how games work on Xbox game pass and platforms like Steam, however though rare, that’s not always the case. 

 

Quality: 

So, this is where the rubber meets the road. Do the games work as well as they should? For the most part yes, they do. Browsing and downloading games works without issue, and playing games is almost always as smooth as it would be on any other platform, however not always. One such example would be Skyrim. Yes Skyrim, a game no one would be surprised to encounter bugs with. However, I wouldn’t expect to have to purchase a second copy of the game due to the issues on Xbox game pass. I have a friend that didn’t get the chance to play Skyrim when it launched. She started Skyrim on Xbox game pass and after getting a few hours into the game and experiencing multiple crashes it was clear that the Xbox game pass version more issues than it should. At this time Microsoft had already acquired Bethesda technically making Skyrim a Microsoft game. She ended up buying the game on Steam where the game crashed far less often.  

Another example is Cities Skylines (Similar to Sim City), which is very different on XGP vs Steam, but this time not because of crashing. One requirement for XGP games is that they work with an Xbox controller. Cities Skylines on Steam doesn’t have controller support, so for the XGP version it had to be added which means the UI for the game is quite different. Ultimately, I found the XGP version’s UI to be more frustrating to use, but it was the first version I played and after getting hooked on it I ended up buying it on Steam to have access to the extra features like Steam Workshop. I probably never would have tried this game if not for Xbox game pass even though I still ended up buying it on Steam due to the lack of extra Steam specific features and Cities Skylines is one game in particular that benefits greatly from Steam Workshop, which leads to my next point.  

Most games on XGP do not support mods of any kind. There are exceptions, but nothing like Steam Workshop exists on XGP and I seriously doubt anything like it ever will. There are certain trade-offs that have to come with a service where not everything is permanent and games being more locked down is definitely one of them. That said, I was able to download free 3rd party planes and jets for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 without any issue. That and a few other games do support mods, but in general, it’s a rare feature on Game Pass.  

 

Value: 

Outside of these examples with Skyrim and Cities Skylines, I have not personally encountered any issues related to gaming with Game Pass. Downloading and playing games is as simple as it could be. So then with all these games, is there much value here? The answer is certainly yes. For about the price of a one fast-food meal each month, you will get access to well over 100 games. The value of each game varies widely, from games that look like they came from indie Humble Bundles to top tier AAA games, and everything in-between. How much value Game Pass offers to each person will depend on what kinds of games they’re interested in but there’s a healthy amount of variety included so most gamers should be able to find at least a few games they want to play.  

One aspect where I find the most value is simply having access to a bunch of games that look interesting enough to try out but not interesting enough to buy without knowing if I will enjoy them or not. Sure, Steam will offer refunds for games within a 2-hour playtime window but in my opinion that simply isn’t good enough as 2 hours is hardly enough time to finish the tutorial in some games. Having the ability to browse a big library of games and play any that look interesting right away (or as fast as your internet can download them) is by far the biggest value for me. One such game that comes to mind is Trailmakers, a game that revolves around building vehicles out of “Lego” like pieces. It was pretty hard to tell just from looking at the trailers if this game was going to be fun or not, but since it was on Game Pass, I tried it and it was a lot of fun. I never would have tried that game if I had to buy it but having it on game pass enabled me to experience something outside of my lazier preferences. Because of this, I’ll end up experiencing a more diverse set of games which I see as a huge positive. On the flip side, I’ve thought about buying games that popped up on Game Pass that I ended up not enjoying and Game Pass saved me the trouble of trying to return them later on, and others still I knew I would enjoy and didn’t have to buy at all Like Doom, Halo, and Hitman just to name a few.  

 

Streaming: 

To be frank, I really have no interest in streaming games. For most of the time that I’ve used game pass, I’ve been signed up for the cheaper plan that doesn’t include streaming. There are a few more games available through streaming vs games that can be downloaded and with the new Halo game and all the older Halo games all being out on PC except for Halo 5, I decided to try the streaming so I could play Halo 5 before I start Halo Infinite

At first, I tried playing on the hardest difficulty which is how I would normally play a Halo game and it very quickly was clear that was not going to work. Turning the difficulty down one notch made the game playable, but not in a way that felt very enjoyable. The stream quality was good, but the input latency is just far too high to make it feel satisfying for a game like Halo. To be fair, first-person shooters are probably the worst case for a streaming service. Other games would play perfectly fine via streaming and there is a good argument to be made for some value in streaming with games that don’t require a quick response. Games like Hitman (if you play stealthy) or narrative driven games like Life is Strange should work perfectly fine with streaming.  

Because of the input lag, I really only see value in what XPG steaming offers with slower paced games. Playing on a smartphone or tablet seem like the only way to get real added usefulness from streaming and playing slower paced games that way could easily be worth the added $5 for anyone who might want to play something like, let’s say, a fishing game (XGP has several fishing games). While it’s definitely nice to have the option, it’s simply far too much input lag for anything other than those slower paced games but for only $5 more, it’s a great option to have. 

 

Final Thoughts: 

It seems like pretty much any PC gamer can easily get a ton of value out of Game Pass. At its current price of only $10 a month ($15 if you want streaming included) it feels like a steal. I probably spend close to that much on Steam games that I never get around to playing so it’s hard to complain about the price. With a strong list of AAA titles and a diverse array of everything else behind it, Xbox game pass truly is doing for gaming what Netflix did for movies years ago. In that sense Game Pass is long over-due. Netflix replaced the movie rental business with something far more convenient, and in doing so it also killed the video game rental business, but nothing ever replaced it. Now we finally have something good that gives gamers the ability to play games without buying them at retail prices again for the first time in years and I’m very excited about it. I’d like to see improvements to the UI/Game Pass app itself but more important is the games. With plenty of games to offer at a low price, there’s really no downside.  

 

Pro'sCon's
CheapOccasional issues with games being overly buggy
Over 100 games, many AAA titlesLimited mod support 
Clean UI works well for all the basics Latency on Streaming is too high for fast paced games 
Game Bar has a lot of good options and infoUI lacks info about game updates 
Allows users to leave reviews 

  

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Another feature that they have is cloud gaming on some games. So if you don’t want to download a game onto a console you can still play it.

      1. My bad,when I saw streaming I just kinda skipped through it thinking you meant from 1 device to another.I should read more carefully.

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