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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Gaming on a PC? You Really Need to Get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

As a veteran PC gamer with a preference for Sony's PlayStation consoles, I’m a late convert to the delights of Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription service. I often play the same games for weeks, but my Steam library is bristling with unplayed titles, and my kids have an insatiable thirst for new games. I was skeptical about the quality and depth of Game Pass (and game subscription services generally). But buying a steady stream of games for me, my wife, and my two kids was getting expensive.

Paying out $60 for a game they simply must have, only to find they're bored with it after a week, wasn't sustainable. My wife and I tend to only buy games we know we're going to like, which is an alien concept for kids. What finally persuaded me to sign up was my crestfallen daughter, who found herself unable to join her game-hopping Xbox friends, who all seem to have Game Pass. Hearing squeals of laughter as she racks up hours with pals in Sea of Thieves and Human Fall Flat goes a long way to justifying the cost, but what has made Game Pass Ultimate a vital part of our household are the PC games.

An unexpected benefit is that my kids and I readily try more games now, playing titles that might have passed us by. Game Pass not only helps us discover games we like but also lets us drop titles we don’t. It is less risky to take a chance on something, and not feeling like you have to stick with a game because you bought it is freeing. We are gaming more than ever.

Games Galore

Xbox/Microsoft Game Pass Ultimate$10 at Xbox$15 at Amazon (Ultimate)$30 at Amazon (PC, 3 Months)

Long hyped as the best deal in gaming, Game Pass Ultimate is a subscription service that invites you to an all-you-can-eat buffet at a table laden with hundreds of games for $15 per month. You can install and play games on Xbox or PC, with nearly 500 games included for both platforms, respectively. You can also stream console games (no installation necessary) to play on a MacBook, tablet, or smartphone. If you don't have an Xbox but have a PC or vice versa, you can also get a PC or Console plan for $10 per month, though you will miss out on some perks.

You can find a game in every genre in the current Game Pass lineup, with a solid mix of classics, popular series, indies, and fresh AAA titles. But it wasn't always so. When it launched five years ago, Game Pass was Xbox-only and offered around 100 games. Game Pass for PC and the Ultimate tier that combined them didn’t arrive until two years later, and cloud gaming was only folded into the mix in 2020.

By forging close deals with big publishers and acquiring a steady stream of talented game developers, Microsoft has simultaneously beefed up the Game Pass back catalog and lined up an impressive roster of launch day titles. I’ve sunk weeks into Halo Infinite, Total War: Warhammer 3, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ve enjoyed games I was interested in but didn’t buy on release, like The Outer Worlds, Hades, Prey, and Frostpunk. And I’ve had the odd nostalgic blast of old favorites I wouldn’t buy again, like Spore, Dungeon Keeper 2, and Fallout: New Vegas.

When they aren’t gaming with friends, my kids are engrossed in games like Two Point Campus, Sims 4, and Subnautica. All of this is a long-winded way of saying there’s a great choice of games to play, which is what makes Game Pass Ultimate so irresistible. Even better is the cloud gaming option (currently available for nearly 400 games), which allows you to play these titles on virtually any device—you can fire up a game and try it without having to wait for a download or free up space for installation.

Caveats and Competition

There are some caveats worth pointing out about the service. We all love the option to try multiple games with Game Pass Ultimate, but both cloud gaming and my willingness to download more games bank on high-speed internet. Before fiber came to my area, this casual game hopping would have been impossible. (We used to have to plan ahead and download overnight.)

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Game Pass also cycles titles in and out every month. I worried about the lineup change. What happens if you’re halfway through a game and it disappears? The answer is your save progress is safe, and you have the option to buy it at a discount. We have only bumped up against this a couple of times—when I had to rush to finish Twelve Minutes before it disappeared, and when we discovered Moving Out, which fast became a family co-op favorite. I've learned to pay attention to the “Leaving soon” column in the Xbox app.

The lack of a family gaming plan is annoying too, though we have been able to share Game Pass Ultimate across an Xbox and two PCs, with all three of us often gaming at once (jumping through some hoops). We can’t play the same multiplayer games together, but Microsoft apparently has a family plan in the works (currently available in Ireland) that will enable this. It’s a complaint you can lodge at most gaming subscription services right now.

Curious about Sony’s service, I signed up for PlayStation Plus Premium, which boasts more than 500 games. So far, we’ve played Stray, streamed a bit of Death Stranding, and lined up Returnal. I can’t help feeling underwhelmed. A part of the problem is that I’ve played so many of the big titles here already, but the lack of proper PC games is where it really struggles to compete. You can stream PlayStation games to a PC, but it’s the console version, and you must use a controller.

Unbeatable Deal

Breaking out the main components makes Game Pass Ultimate's value clear. If you want to play multiplayer games on your Xbox console, you need an Xbox Live Gold subscription ($60 per year). But paying an extra $10 per month gets you loads of games, proper PC versions, and a decent cloud service, plus it includes EA Play (usually $30 per year). 

Befitting the “Ultimate” tag, there are other benefits, like discounts, deals, and in-game perks. However, if you only have a PC, you can get most of the same benefits for just $10 per month (cloud gaming is not included). A year of Game Pass Ultimate is the same price as three new AAA games at $60 a pop (and the subscription service includes way more new games than that per year). It's a no-brainer, and easily the best bargain in gaming.

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