Xbox’s past several years of pro-consumer choices have finally paid off. Their continuous support of backwards compatibility, PC releases, and indie games on Nintendo consoles caught my attention. I decided that this year was the year I’d give Xbox a try. I couldn’t afford a new console, but thankfully Microsoft doesn’t need you to. They’re more concerned about you buying Game Pass. Thankfully I already have a powerful gaming PC as well as the $1 that you need to pay for the first month of the service. Seeing as the month of May was devoid of Nintendo games that interested me, I decided May would be the month of trying Xbox PC Game Pass.
What could go wrong?
Game Pass? More Like Glitch Pass.
Unfortunately, my first impression of Xbox’s PC Game Pass — outside of the obnoxious download times for these big AAA games — was a host of technical difficulties. I haven’t used every PC game launcher, but I’m familiar with Battle.net, Steam, EA Play, and GOG Galaxy, and Game Pass is by far the worst out of the bunch. I’ve lost my save data despite not uninstalling anything. Game downloads might suddenly stop working, requiring me to cancel it and start over. And most frustrating of all, some games refused to boot up. After days of troubleshooting, I realized that my antivirus software was blocking them. I managed to get everything working after that, but the experience still never felt entirely smooth. You’d think that, being owned by Microsoft, the Xbox app would work best on a Windows PC, right? Nope. It’s sad to begin my review with a harsh critique of its launcher, but it’s how you interact with Game Pass in the first place. What should’ve been a month’s worth of content only ended up being 3 weeks. When I pay for timed access, losing that time due to bugs is majorly frustrating.
Anyway, let’s move on to what matters most: the games. After your first $1 trial, you pay $11 per month (as of May 2022), you get access to dozens of Microsoft’s first-party games. Thanks to their recent acquisitions of Double-Fine, Obsidian, and Bethesda, this means that most of those studios’ titles are all on the service as well.
My initial reason for buying Game Pass was to check out the first-party games. Xbox had quite a good year in 2021, and paired with all of their legacy Obsidian and Bethesda games, I figured I’d find something that I liked. Since most of these games take a long time to finish, I usually only played the first hour or two, like a kind of “demo.” Needless to say, I was impressed by the size of this First-party library. I played around 10 quality Xbox games, including Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Psychonauts 2, Grounded, Fallout: New Vegas, and Sunset Overdrive.
Game Pass also includes EA Play, which is EA’s own game subscription service. You basically get free access to all of EA’s PC games released since 2007. I found many other interesting titles this way, such as Titanfall 2, Mass Effect, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. As a Nintendo fan, I’ve also missed out on many of these games thanks to EA’s poor support of the Switch and other previous consoles.
As fun as it was to dive into the video game equivalent of Costco free samples, I soon realized I had one major issue with this subscription model. Realistically, I can finish one, maybe two games per month. Paying $11 for even a single AAA game is still an amazing deal, but… that deal is a bit deceptive. Since I don’t own anything on Game Pass, I have to keep paying in order to maintain my access to everything. Thankfully Game Pass provides a discount for buying any game I’d like to own, but I think over a year I’d end up saving money if I just bought the game during a Steam sale. The difference is quite large, too: $132 to access a game for just 1 year vs. $20-$30 to own a game indefinitely.
I think I got the most value out of Game Pass when I tried games that I felt on the fence about, such as Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, or Scarlet Nexus. Having enjoyed the beginning hours, I can now put these games on my Steam wishlist and wait for a sale later down the road. I appreciate having at least a first impression of so many games. This became especially useful for Game Pass’s best kept secret: a robust catalog of indie games.
A Garden of Eden For Indie Games
By far the best feature of Xbox Game Pass is its Library of Congress-sized collection of indie games. I ended up sampling over 30 different titles and I finished several of them, including Unpacking, Pupperazzi, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion, and Trek to Yomi. By eliminating the upfront price, I could freely explore whatever weird idea an indie developer offered without feeling like I was taking a financial risk. Oddly enough, I don’t feel hung up about not owning an indie game, maybe because they cost less to begin with.
Indie games also take much less time to finish. Even though I technically spent more hours playing Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5, I felt more accomplished by finishing all of the smaller titles. I’ve come to the conclusion that Xbox PC Game Pass is basically an indie game Netflix with a few Xbox games thrown in on the side.
That doesn’t mean that it’s all good for indie games, either, though. Every month about 3 or 4 games come to Game Pass and another 3 or 4 leave. On one hand, it’s exciting to always be getting new games; but on the other, no single game will ever be available permanently. It made me approach games in a different way. I had to consider which ones were more worth my time and which ones I’d be okay letting go. As a game collector, I love having a library of games that I can explore and return to at my leisure. But on Game Pass I felt like I was on a timer to finish a game before it disappeared forever. The one benefit to this model is that if you don’t feel like a game is working for you, you don’t have to commit to it. For example, I thought I would like Bugsnax, but I ended up having a lot of problems with its premise. It was a relief to just uninstall it, without feeling guilty that I had bought it.
Considering all of its Pros and Cons, Xbox PC Game Pass is still a weird thing to recommend. You mileage will definitely vary, depending on what type of consumer you are. Ideally Game Pass is made for people who want to explore new kinds of games without the financial burden that that would normally entail. If you fit that description, then you should definitely try Game Pass. You might even prefer it over having a pile of physical games, the way people have replaced their CD collection with Spotify, or their DVD collection with Netflix. However, you might also hate the time and ownership constraints.
As for myself, I like Game Pass; in fact, I find it indispensable for satisfying my gaming wanderlust without breaking the bank. That being said, I won’t be getting rid of my game collection any time soon. I don’t even want to keep Game Pass for a second month. Why? Because I don’t want to end up feeling bound to it, the way I do with my Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Instead, my plan is to come back after a while (maybe once per quarter?) and check out the new rotation of indie games. So many just fly under the radar, and hopefully I can help some of these hidden gems shine.