Xbox Cloud Gaming Offers Mixed Results, But Leaves a Positive Impression Overall

Fallout 76 on a Phone

I am not a huge fan of the on-the-go gaming, since I am rarely on the go in such a way that I have 20 or 30 minutes of idle time. I don’t ride public transportation, nor do I find myself waiting in an inordinate amount of long lines. That said, being able to play full-fledged video games while sitting on the can, or while cooking time-consuming meals, or while just being away from the TV is a pretty nifty option.

For the record, I do own a Nintendo Switch, and have used it during all of the activities I mentioned in the previous sentence. But there is only so much on the handheld that I really enjoy playing. The Long Dark is the short and sweet of it right now, though that might change once The Red Lantern releases later this month.

All of that said, I’ve been toying around with cloud gaming for Xbox Game Pass lately, which allows a handful of games to be played on mobile devices. And I have to tell you, there is something quite magical about playing No Man’s Sky (albeit a micro version since I own a Google Pixel 3 phone) while taking a bath, or ARK: Survival Evolved while sipping a Guinness out on the deck.

No Man's Sky on a Phone

But it not without its drawbacks. For one, unless you have the $99 Razer Kishi cradle for your phone, you will be carrying around an Xbox controller. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a lot more cumbersome than just carrying your phone around. And although Microsoft has included touch controls for a very small selection of games — most notably Minecraft Dungeons — I find touch controls to be something of a deal-breaker.

There is also, of course, the issue of buffering. My home internet is pretty middle-of-the-road, so there are instances when the visual quality takes a dip, but for the most part these are very brief patches in an otherwise solid overall experience. (Once, while playing Fallout 76, the audio for the gun sound effects dropped noticeably while the radio sound levels didn’t, but again, this was only once and very brief.)

Fallout 76 on a Phone

The biggest positive of Xbox cloud gaming is that it’s included with the Game Pass Ultimate program. So for $15 a month you get a ton of PC games, an even ton-ier amount of games on your Xbox console, and the offerings of cloud gaming, which itself supports a number of titles (that number falling somewhere between the quantities offered by the PC and console libraries).

And we’re not just talking indie titles here, though those are very much present. Not only do you get the excellent Neon Abyss (which suffers more from lag because of its frantic, split-second, twitch gameplay), but you also get big marquee titles, including some Xbox originals.

And don’t forget that EA Play will be added to the service mid-November, which is just icing on the cake at this point. Plus, Microsoft is often running a deal that gets you the first month for just $1.

I gotta say, for someone that doesn’t normally look to game on the go, this is by far the best cloud gaming option, especially when compared to Google Stadia — as long as you have a controller and a solid internet connection, that is. But we’ll have to wait to see if Luna, Amazon’s upcoming cloud gaming service, can muscle in and unseat Microsoft’s offerings.

If the stars align for you, given the small-yet-concrete barrier of entry (the controller, reasonable internet speed, and a $15-per-month subscription fee), then Xbox cloud streaming might just be your on-the-go gaming Cloud Nine.

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