The Game Pass For You
Xbox Game Pass has multiple tiers, depending on your platform and the features you want. Both Xbox Game Pass for Console and Xbox Game Pass for PC cost the same $9.99 per month (though the PC pass currently has a promotional monthly price of $4.99), and offer access to more than 100 games on either Xbox One (and the upcoming Xbox Series X/S) or Windows 10. This includes all first-party Xbox Game Studios games on the day of release.
Xbox Game Pass members at this tier receive various discounts to buy games via the Xbox store. The PC pass will also get the added benefit of EA’s upcoming EA Play service, which provides even more free games as part of the subscription (it otherwise costs $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year). The EA Play access will be added near the end of the year.
The highest tier, and the version we tested, is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. For $14.99 per month ($180 per year), it combines both the Console and PC game passes into one service, with additional features. Ultimate adds Xbox Live Gold, a separate subscription service which enables online multiplayer on Xbox consoles and itself costs $9.99 per month without the pass (or $24.99 every three months, for $100 annually). Xbox Live Gold also adds an additional two to four free games per month, in addition to what you can play on Xbox Game Pass. The same EA Play access as the PC game pass will also be added around the end of the year.
Besides combining all of those services into one monthly subscription, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate adds Microsoft’s cloud gaming feature, formerly called Project xCloud. It lets you play the service’s games on your Android phone, streamed from Microsoft’s servers. It’s one of the biggest draws of the Ultimate game pass, even if the service is still in beta.
The $15 monthly fee is expensive compared with services like PlayStation Now ($59.99 per year), PlayStation Plus ($59.99 per year), and EA Play ($29.99 per year). It costs as much as the new Apple One subscription which includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and Apple Cloud storage. It’s a bit steep, but not exorbitant.
More than anything else, Xbox Game Pass’ game library will determine the value the service holds for you. As mentioned before, the service offers more than 100 games for both Xbox and Windows 10. There’s plenty of overlap between the platforms, but there are also some games specific to Xbox or PC. These games are regularly refreshed, with a few rotated in or out on a monthly basis.
There’s some gold in Xbox Game Pass, whether you play on console, PC, or both. All Xbox Game Studios games are up there, including Forza Motorsport 7, Forza Horizon 4, every Halo game, every Gears of War game, and (currently PC-only) Microsoft Flight Simulator. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Zenimax means that all of Bethesda’s franchises like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, and Doom will be added to Xbox Game Pass as well. There are plenty of other excellent third-party games available on top of them, though they tend not to be quite as recent as day-one Xbox Game Studios games. You can play Resident Evil 7, Dead By Daylight, Yakuza 0/Kiwami/Kiwami 2, Age of Empires I/II/III: Definitive Edition, and Dragon Quest XI S. Indie games are also well-served, with many unexpected gems like Carrion, Slay the Spire, Enter the Gungeon, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Hatoful Boyfriend, Spiritfarer, Hypnospace Outlaw, and dozens more.
Whatever your tastes, you can probably find games you’d like to play on Xbox Game Pass. There are shooters, racing games, platformers, RPGs, you name it. Non-racing sports games are few and far between, but that will change when EA Play is added to the service, and with it titles like Madden 20 and FIFA 20. EA will help shore up the list of sports games, with all other genres already well-covered.
To play any of these games, all you have to do is load the Xbox app in Windows 10 or access the Xbox Game Pass section on your Xbox One, choose a game in the pass, and start downloading (or streaming, which I’ll get to later).
Microsoft’s cloud gaming service was previously called Project xCloud, and was available through a separate app. The service is now simply called Xbox cloud gaming, and while it’s still in beta, it’s openly available as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and accessible through the Xbox Game Pass app on Android. It lets you play any game available through Xbox Game Pass on your phone through game streaming. The games run on Microsoft’s own servers, with all graphics, sound, and inputs streaming to and from those servers to your phone.
To play Xbox games on your phone, you need a compatible controller. You can simply pair an Xbox Wireless Controller to your phone over Bluetooth, or use a variety of gamepads designed specifically for Xbox cloud gaming, like the Razer Kishi and PowerA Moga XP5-X Plus. The cloud-gaming-specific controllers often have some form of phone holder or clamp that keeps your phone in place at a comfortable viewing position on the gamepad, letting you use the pair of devices like a gaming handheld (the Razer Kishi with its internal phone holder feels particularly like a Nintendo Switch). Your smartphone or tablet also needs to be running Android 6.0 or higher, and have at least Bluetooth 4.0.
Most importantly, you need a very fast Internet connection. Microsoft recommends a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection or an LTE/5G mobile connection capable of at least 10Mbps downstream. Decent upstream speed will also help keep your inputs feeling responsive, and as always the faster the connection, the better. Unless you have mmWave 5G and are in an amazing location, 5GHz Wi-Fi will probably be your best bet.
I played some games through Xbox Game Pass on my Google Pixel 3a XL, with an 8Bitdo SN30+ for Android controller. I connected to my home FiOS network over 5GHz Wi-Fi, which showed consistent speeds of over 400Mbps down and 200Mbps up.
The fighting game Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid played very well over the cloud, with sharp, smooth graphics on my phone screen and responsive controls. Forza Horizon 4 also looked excellent, though my steering and acceleration in that game felt a bit sluggish. It’s important to note that the cloud gaming feature is still in beta, even if it’s part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Hopefully, the input quirks will be smoothed out towards the feature’s official release. I’ve already seen significant improvement in graphical quality and stability since tested the feature as Project xCloud.
Cloud Saves and Cross Saves
I was pleasantly surprised to find that cloud saving tracks across both cloud gaming and your progress on Xbox and PC. When I opened Forza Horizon 4, my progress from hours on the Xbox One was right there, with all of my custom cars. I even found that Re:Core: Definitive Edition kept my save file from before the game was on Xbox Game Pass or even had a Definitive Edition (it automatically converted the save file to the new version). Whatever game you want to play on Xbox Game Pass, you can put it down and pick it back up on whichever platform you wish.
An Xbox Must-Have
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is one of the best deals in gaming, as it offers a fantastic game library, including all major Microsoft releases on launch day, and multiple other benefits. Its $15 monthly fee is steep compared to other game subscription services, but it includes titles for both Xbox and PC, an Xbox Live Gold membership (itself a $100 annual value), and access to Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, further expanding where you can play these games.
Even if you only play on Xbox hardware, you’ll need Xbox Live Gold at a minimum for online play. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate adds so much on top of that for another $80 per year. It’s a fantastic value that earns our Editors’ Choice.