Impressive game library all included with subscription
“Out of the box” functionality
Video compression makes a big impact on visual quality
Not all games are staying in the game library
Xbox Cloud Gaming offers an impressive, everchanging game library. However, the heavy-handed video compression and lack of support for mouse and keyboard shows that it has some notable technical hurdles to jump over before it can truly shine.
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Microsoft is betting big on its Xbox Game Pass subscription service with its stacked library of game titles. A big draw of the subscription is access to Xbox Cloud Gaming, which allows users to stream games directly from the cloud to their console or PC. However, cloud gaming is already packed with heavyweight competitors such as Google Stadia and Amazon Luna. So how does it stand up in a crowded market?
Xbox Cloud Gaming is available exclusively through the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership, which is an ongoing $14.99 per month subscription. There is no way of trying out the service without paying first, though at the time of writing, there is an offer of $1 for the first month. As this cost is tied to the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, we should also mention that it includes access to the Xbox and PC Game Pass service for consoles and PCs, allowing users to install the library of games to customer’s relevant devices as well.
As an online-only service, users will need a solid internet connection to take advantage of it. Microsoft recommends a 20Mbps internet connection on PC or console to achieve the best performance. Mobile devices need 10 Mbps connections and Wifi should be on a 5GHz connection.
Largely the biggest benefit of the Xbox Cloud Gaming and Game Pass experience is the game library, which is fairly large and packed with high-quality titles including DOOM, Halo, and Forza Horizon. An Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription includes access to the EA Play subscription service as well, which grants access to all sorts of EA games like Battlefield and Mass Effect. All of the games that are available in the Xbox Cloud Gaming library are included in the subscription—no other purchases or content subscriptions are necessary.
Additionally, Microsoft has been very vocal about wanting to bring the games from its own studios into the Game Pass service, and the company continues to promote its efforts in getting third-party games into the list as close to the game’s global release as possible. Games are regularly added, as well as removed, from the Game Pass and Cloud Gaming library.
Xbox Cloud Gaming: UX/interfaces
Xbox Cloud Gaming can be played in a web browser or via the Xbox app for Windows. Whether you’re logged into an account or not, you can browse the entire game library through the web browser. If you’re using the Xbox app for Windows, it will attempt to log in with a Microsoft account that you may have connected to your Windows device.
In order to play the games, and if you don’t already have a Microsoft and/or Xbox account, you will need to create one. If you have an active Xbox account, it should already be connected to a Microsoft account, but if you have an older Xbox account, you may have some extra account management and connection steps to deal with if you want to connect it to this service.
Additionally, it is required to play the games with a game controller. While Microsoft has been saying that mouse and keyboard support is coming, there isn’t a confirmed date for that support at the time of this article’s writing. So if you’re looking for the PC shooter experience, this isn’t it for now.
The Xbox app interface includes everything about the wider Xbox Game Pass service, but we’re just discussing the Cloud Gaming portion here. Towards the top of the Cloud Gaming section of the Xbox app there are some technical checks to confirm your internet connection and that a game controller is detected. In our testing, both Xbox and Playstation controllers connected to the PC worked without any configuration needed. You can also access the app’s settings as well as a browser link to Xbox support pages.
The game library interface for the web and app are very similar, in which you’re presented with a bunch of cover art for different games and a handful of search and genre browsing options. There are some recommendations based on your play history, what’s popular, and what games are new or soon to leave the service. You can click into any game to see more details about the game, developer, and some other links to share or purchase the game directly.
Clicking Play on any of the games will launch the streaming service either as a full-screen window or in the browser, depending on which method you’re using. In game, you can play to your heart’s content and when you’re done, you can quit from within the game, or use your browser or the Xbox app’s navigation menus to back out.
Xbox Cloud Gaming: Game performance
Microsoft seems to be keen on avoiding any kind of guarantee or expectation when it comes to the Xbox Cloud Gaming performance, for seemingly good reasons. Despite having a connection speed of around 440Mbps while testing, I experienced a significant amount of video compression on the games I streamed.
I did some research, and it seems that the hardware behind Xbox Cloud Gaming is set up to push a 1080p-at-60fps experience. Microsoft seems to be erring on the side of caution when it comes to connection stability. While we had no functional issues connecting to the games and we felt like our controls were responsive, the visual quality seems to be sacrificed through compression to make that happen. Our experience was something closer to a 720p resolution being stretched out, but the video compression was unmistakable, particularly when moving in games with a lot of camera movement.
Beyond that, however, the gameplay experience was very smooth. Streaming Halo Infinite to my PC and playing it with a Playstation 4 controller just worked out of the box, no custom configuration necessary. It didn’t feel any different from playing on a local device, save for the lack of mouse and keyboard support. Notably, we had zero instances of crashes or similar errors in any of the games we tested. Everything just worked, but the video compression was often hard to ignore.
Xbox Cloud Gaming: Bottom line
Many gamers are keen to note that it’s the games that make the system, and Xbox Cloud Gaming includes many incredible games in its service, and that absolutely should be celebrated here. However, the game library constantly changes and some of those big-budget game experiences are likely to be negatively influenced by some heavy-handed video compression. Additionally, the lack of mouse and keyboard support just feels bad for the PC experience.