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Xbox Game Pass guide: Which option is right for you?
Microsoft has hit the ball out of the park with its Game Pass subscription services. Each offers incredible value for casual and hardcore console and PC gamers and makes for a worthy alternative to the best Android games on your phone. But when choosing between the console or PC versions of Xbox Game Pass vs Game Pass Ultimate, things can get complicated. And now that there’s a third option called Xbox Game Pass Core, things are even more confusing.
To help you decide, we compiled this comprehensive guide to all three Xbox Game Pass subscriptions.
What is Xbox Game Pass?
At first glance, all Xbox Game Pass services may seem to offer the same thing. And in many ways, they do.
All of them are subscription services that unlock a variety of AAA and indie games for one monthly fee. The major differences are which games are included, where you can play these games, and what extra features are included.
It’s also worth remembering that there are four services here: Xbox Game Pass Core, Xbox Game Pass Console, Xbox Game Pass PC, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Here’s a quick summary of each, although we’ll go into more detail below.
- Xbox Game Pass Core: This replaces Xbox Live Gold, enabling online play on consoles and access to a small library of about 25 games.
- Xbox Game Pass Console: The console version unlocks a much larger catalog of console games but does not include online multiplayer outside free-to-play games.
- Xbox Game Pass PC: Like the console service, PC Game Pass unlocks a large catalog of PC games, plus EA Play titles.
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: The top-tier service includes online multiplayer on consoles, both the console and PC game catalogs, plus a few extras like EA Play and Xbox Cloud Gaming.
What features do Xbox Game Pass/Ultimate have?
The core feature for all Game Pass subscriptions is access to a library of games at one monthly price. While subscribed, you can download and play games from over 100 fantastic titles on your PC, mobile device, or Xbox console (depending on the subscription). For the console and PC version of Xbox Game Pass, that’s exactly what you’re paying for.
However, there is one key feature missing from Game Pass that most console gamers will need: online multiplayer. Unlike PC games, you must pay to play (most) games online with your friends. The cheapest way to do this is Xbox Game Pass Core, which replaced Xbox Live Gold in September 2023. This subscription costs $9.99/month or $60/year. Granted, you no longer need a subscription to play free-to-play games online, including heavy-hitters like PUBG, Fortnite, and Halo: Infinite.
The good news is that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate does include online multiplayer on consoles. The premium subscription bundles Xbox Game Pass Console, PC Game Pass, online multiplayer, and Xbox Cloud Gaming (more on this later) into a single service.
Microsoft also added EA Play to Game Pass Ultimate and PC Game Pass in 2020, which is essentially an entire extra catalog of games. EA’s library includes many sports titles, games from the Star Wars franchise, and more. It isn’t quite as full-featured as EA Play Pro, but it’s still a fantastic perk.
Now that Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard is official, the publisher’s wide swathe of titles can be included in the service. However, these titles might only land on Xbox Game Pass in 2024. Nevertheless, this is one reason to consider enrolling in the program in the new year.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also includes a few other perks for popular games, like unlocking the full roster of champions in League of Legends. The service also regularly offers add-ons with skins and other content for games like Sea of Thieves, FIFA, and more. Other perks include extended free trials of other services, such as Apple Music, Crunchyroll, or Discord Nitro.
How much does Xbox Game Pass/Ultimate cost?
Xbox splits its four subscription tiers across two platforms, giving console gamers and PC gamers their own incentives. Note Xbox Game Pass Core replaced Xbox Live Gold on September 14, 2023. We have included pricing for the subscription plans, as they are now, below.
- Xbox Game Pass Core: $9.99 a month or $59.99/year.
- Xbox Game Pass Console: $10.99/month.
- Xbox Game Pass PC: $9.99/month.
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $16.99/month.
Regarding pricing, most subscription plans come in cheaper than a standard subscription for the best streaming services. The most basic plan is Xbox Game Pass Core, which runs just $9.99/month. It isn’t as fully-featured as the other versions of Game Pass, but it’s the only one that’s available at a discount if you purchase a full year, which costs $59.99.
Xbox Game Pass PC is the same price at $9.99/month, and obviously, it targets a completely different audience. This is a fantastic deal for PC-only gamers, although there are no discounts for 3, 6, or 12-month subscription cards unless you buy them from third-party retailers, which comes with certain risks. Still, this is excellent value. You’re getting 100+ games, which includes all first-party games from Microsoft and tons of third-party hits, the entire EA Play library, and indie darlings (more on this in the next section). However, note that the game library is not exactly the same as the console library.
Speaking of which, Xbox Game Pass Console is a bit pricier at $10.99/month. It includes many great console games, but you must pay extra to play them online. For that reason, it’s the worst value of any of the Xbox Game Pass subscriptions.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the best value, costing $16.99/month. For console gamers who play games online, it’s a better deal than either the Core or Console subscriptions. It also includes the PC library, EA Play, and cloud gaming, which is just the icing on the cake.
That said, upgrading to Ultimate doesn’t add much value for pure PC gamers. Unless you really want to try cloud gaming on your PC, iOS, or Android device or want access to the full roster of champions in League of Legends, the extra features aren’t very enticing for an extra $7 a month.
Xbox Game Pass games: What titles are included?
There is a lot of confusion about the Xbox Game Pass game library. In theory, the list of games for Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate is more or less the same. However, if you check the official list online, it combines four separate libraries: PC titles, console titles, cloud gaming titles, and EA Play titles.
Of course, if you subscribe to Ultimate, you gain instant access to all these. Those who opt for the cheaper Game Pass subscriptions might not get the full picture. To check each category, enable the filter for console, PC, or cloud-enabled games. Also, remember that the console titles include EA Play games, which are not included with a standard Game Pass Console subscription.
Each library constantly shifts, with new games added and old ones removed every month. Microsoft announces removals well in advance, so you have plenty of time to try or finish them. There are discounts to buy games leaving Game Pass, so watch for those if you want to keep playing.
There are many great games to choose from on all platforms. For example, all first-party games are added on their release day. This means you could play the Halo: Infinite campaign or hop into Starfield immediately without shelling out $70.
To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a short list of some of the best games on Xbox Game Pass:
- Back 4 Blood
- Cities: Skylines
- Dead Cells
- Doom Eternal
- FIFA 23
- Forza Horizon 4
- Forza Horizon 5
- Gears 5
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Halo: Infinite
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Hollow Knight
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- Minecraft Dungeons
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Perfect Dark
- Psychonauts 2
- Rage 2
- Slay the Spire
- Spelunky 2
- Star Wars: Battlefront
- Tetris Effect: Connected
- Yakuza series (all titles)
How is cloud gaming on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate?
Without a doubt, the biggest difference between the cheaper Xbox Game Pass subscriptions and Game Pass Ultimate is Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly called Project xCloud). Although it’s still technically in beta, it allows you to play AAA games from the comfort of your mobile device, PC, or even your Steam Deck. Currently, the only way to access Microsoft’s game streaming is with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
The streaming tech itself isn’t as impressive as GeForce Now (it’s limited to 720p on mobile and 1080p on PC for now), but it includes hundreds of games out of the box, giving it a huge lead. The gradual upgrades to Xbox Series X hardware in the cloud mean it will eventually surpass most competitors, at least in raw power. Streaming performance, however, is still a bit choppy as of 2023.
Cloud gaming is poised to revolutionize how we consume games, and if you want to be on the cutting edge, you’ll need to upgrade to Ultimate. It’s also flexible, allowing you to play on your mobile device with a standard Xbox controller or grab a dedicated mobile controller like the Razer Kishi Xbox Edition (pictured above) for even more portability. Some games support touch controls so you can play on your phone without any accessories.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft recently added support for all titles in the PC Game Pass to GeForce Now, so even if you don’t pay for Ultimate, you can still play in the cloud. Granted, if you want to play for more than an hour, you’ll need to pay an additional subscription fee.
Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate: Which is best?
The main consideration when comparing Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate is where you want to game.
Game Pass Ultimate is always a better choice if you plan on playing on a console. The added value of online multiplayer is too good to pass up for most. If you never play online games and want to save a few bucks, the standard Game Pass Console is still a great value, although you’ll miss out on the EA Play library.
If you play on console, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is probably a better choice.
The situation shifts when it comes to pure PC gamers. Most of the added benefits of Ultimate (namely EA Play and online multiplayer) are either included or irrelevant for PC gamers, so there isn’t much reason to upgrade. it’s also $7 cheaper per month, a significant amount. That said, you can only access Xbox Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which might tip the scales for fans of emerging game streaming tech (unless you’re already using GeForce Now).
The other big deciding factor is cloud gaming on your phone or your Samsung smart TV. Playing Xbox games on your phone or via a TV without a console is just really cool, and it will only get better as time goes on. Cloud games are also taken from the console library, so it’s the only way to play console-only games that aren’t included in PC Game Pass.