Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is all you can playwith exceptional value. It has evolved far beyond its Xbox origins to become a subscription offering something for everyone who plays games, and now includes console and PC game downloads, access to online multiplayer services, a deal with gaming giant EA and a cloud-based service that streams games on almost any device. It also offers plenty of day-one launch games from Microsoft studios.
Finding the right version of Game Pass can be confusing. Microsoft offers several versions, but because of how features are split between them, only the $15/month Ultimate plan, which we’ll abbreviate here to XGPU, with all the benefits described above, really makes sense.
It’s that collection of features, for less than the price of a 4K Netflix subscription, that earns Game Pass Ultimate an Editors’ Choice award, especially if you have cheaper (and occasionally discounted)consoles.
- Unique breadth of features
- Great for console and PC gaming
- A catalog of 400 games
I do not like
- Available games change frequently
- Computer integration headaches
- Cloud gaming limited to 1080p at 60fps
Choose the right plan
Plain old Game Pass costs $10 a month and only includes a library of games from known to unknown that you can download and play on Xbox One orconsoles. As with all these subscriptions, games regularly come in and out of the library due to licensing agreements, but Microsoft’s core products such as and they are usually permanent. However, even when the game leaves the library, you can transfer your progress to another store like Steam – not easy, but you can do it.
If you want to play games with online multiplayer, in most cases you’ll need a separate $10 per month Xbox Live subscription to play online against other people. It’s included in the Ultimate package, so you can already see why Microsoft is really pushing you towards it.
Please note that free games, such asno Xbox Live subscription required for multiplayer.
The $10/month Game Pass for PC plan uses the Windows-only Xbox app to download and install a subset of games from the full Game Pass library for local play instead of streaming. As these are full PC games, you will need a gaming laptop or desktop with a graphics card and a powerful enough processor, plus plenty of hard drive space, to use it. Game Pass for PC also includesa subscription that alone costs $5 per month or $30 per year.
But the best value lies in the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. For $15 a month, you get both console and PC game libraries, EA Play benefits and discounts, as well as Xbox Gold — $10 a month on its own — which focuses on online multiplayer gaming. In addition to all that, you can play on phones, iPads or even Mac using. For all who enjoy both console and PC gaming, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal, especially as cloud gaming continues to become a bigger part of the mix.
Action-adventure games and shooter series such as Battlefield, Destiny 2, Gears of War and Halo make up the majority of the service’s catalog of around 400 games. By our count, action/adventure games accounted for 30% of Game Pass titles, while shooters accounted for another 15%. RPG and sports titles also had a decent showing, but horror and puzzle fans will find a smaller selection (about 5% of the library). Still, Game Pass offers access to classic platformers like Banjo Kazooie, matching and puzzle games, RPGs, and unique indie games likeand .
The games are categorized so you can easily find games that are family-friendly, action-packed, or even last-ditch games that are about to expire on the platform. Game Pass is such a comprehensive, intuitive service – when you find a title you’re interested in, just download the game to start playing it.
The Game Pass The ultimate difference: breadth and depth
For its purpose, Microsoft has an incomparable advantage over its competitors for several reasons. The company has a long history in gaming —launched almost 40 years ago and — and features the DirectX graphics programming interface used by both Windows and its Xbox consoles. It has well-established game development studios and is gobbling up more independent studios every year, plus it has ties to all the major game developers. And it manages a vast network of state-of-the-art data centers optimized to serve cloud applications: Xbox Cloud Gaming is as much about Azure as it is about entertainment.
“Purpose” is key here, as XGPU is only one of our two Editors’ Choice Awards for cloud gaming: the other is. XGPU is great if you don’t already have a large library of games or if you want to play them on any device, making it a good choice for almost anyone. GeForce Now is great if you already have a large library of PC games and want to play them on any device with high quality and frame rates, making it a good choice for more experienced gamers.
The two complement each other more than they compete and require the least amount of adaptation work for developers, ensuring rapid growth in the number of supported games. It probably takes more time to sign licensing agreements than it does to get a game ready for any service.
In contrast, most XGPU competitors only deal with parts of the whole picture; for example, both Google Stadia and Amazon Luna have robust networks for streaming across multiple devices, but they have small game libraries because games are harder to transfer.
And the annoying irony is that Sony had the biggest advantage of all in cloud gaming and pretty much blew it, leaving PSNow just a nice and relatively cheap choice as a PlayStation game library that doesn’t even offer Sony’s latest exclusives the way XGPU does.
Where it fails
As a jack of all trades, XGPU does not master every aspect. For example, its cloud game streaming is still limited to 1080p at 60fps, while Stadia can handle 4K and GeForce Now 1440p at 120fps.
And there are few things more infuriating than getting used to playing on your PC and finding that the game won’t launch until you update Windows because the Xbox app is too tied to the Microsoft Store – a major pain that often prompts us to switch to other games that they are not Game Pass.
It offers a significant number of new games and day one launches, but the library also regularly drops games. Like many subscription services, the game (or movie or TV show) you want always looks like it’s on a service you’re not subscribed to.
While it’s great that EA Play is included in the subscription price for XGPU, it’s not that closely integrated. For example, on PC you still need to install another launcher and the family settings in XGPU do not apply to EA Play.
The value play
When it launched, Game Pass felt like Netflix in its early streaming days: an interesting idea, but a thin catalog. It’s now the standard release platform for big games from Microsoft-affiliated publishers like Bethesda and hit series like Halo and Forza.
As it has evolved into the multi-headed hydra that is Game Pass Ultimate, it’s hard to rationalize even buying an Xbox without a subscription. A 12-month subscription costs the same as three major new games (or even less, now that many new games have jumped to $70). And more importantly, it gives gamers the opportunity to try a far greater range of games than developers of all sizes, solving one of the biggest problems of game discovery.