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Xbox Game Pass guide: Which option is right for you?

Microsoft's Netflix-for-games subscriptions offer incredible value, but here's how to choose the right one for you.
July 24, 2023
xbox logo series x 2
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

Microsoft has hit the ball out of the park with its Game Pass subscription services. Each one offers incredible value for both casual and hardcore gamers alike. But when it comes to choosing between the console or PC versions of Xbox Game Pass vs Game Pass Ultimate, things can get a bit complicated. And now that there’s a third option called Xbox Game Pass Core, things are even more confusing.

To help you decide, we put together this comprehensive guide to all three Xbox Game Pass subscriptions.

Xbox Game Pass Logo
Xbox Game Pass
Tons of games for one low price
You can give the gamer in your life access to over 200 Xbox One games with a monthly subscription to Xbox Game Pass. The great games include old classics and modern blockbusters.
Xbox Game Pass Logo
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Xbox Live Gold and over 100 high-quality games for one low monthly price.
Joining Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will upgrade your remaining Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass for Console or Xbox Game Pass for PC time into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for the same amount of time, up to 36 months.

Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate: At a glance

xbox game pass vs ultimate at a glance

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 keeping in mind that there are actually 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 is a replacement for 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 of free-to-play games.
  • Xbox Game Pass PC: Similar to 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?

xbox series x dashboard 1

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 a list of 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: access to this library.

However, there is one key feature missing from Game Pass that most console gamers will need, and that’s online multiplayer. Unlike PC games, you need to pay to play (most) games online with your friends. The cheapest way to do this is Xbox Game Pass Core, which will replace Xbox Live Gold in September 2023. This subscription alone costs $9.99 a month, or $60 a 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 a host of sports titles, plus 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. If Microsoft’s Activision/Blizzard acquisition goes through, we may also see perks for World of Warcraft and Call of Duty games added to the mix.

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 extended trials of Apple Music, Crunchyroll, or Discord Nitro.

How much does Xbox Game Pass/Ultimate cost?

Note: Xbox Game Pass Core will replace Xbox Live Gold on September 14. We have included pricing for the upcoming subscription plans below.

  • Xbox Game Pass Core: $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
  • Xbox Game Pass Console: $10.99 a month.
  • Xbox Game Pass PC: $9.99 a month.
  • Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $16.99 a month.

When it comes to pricing, most subscription plans come in cheaper than a standard Netflix subscription. The most basic plan is Xbox Game Pass Core, which runs just $9.99 a 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 a month, and obviously it targets a completely different audience. For PC-only gamers, this is a fantastic deal, 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 an 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). Do note, however, that the game library is not exactly the same as the console library.

Speaking of which, Xbox Game Pass Console comes in a bit higher at $10.99 a month. It includes a ton of great console games, but you will still need to 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 by far the best value, costing $16.99 a month. For console gamers who play games online, it’s a better deal than either the Core or Console subscriptions. The fact that it also includes the PC library, EA Play, and cloud gaming is just icing on the cake.

That said, for pure PC gamers, there isn’t much added value in upgrading to Ultimate. 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.

What games do Xbox Game Pass/Ultimate include?

xbox series x review gears 5
Xbox Game Studios
Gears 5

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 of these. It’s those who opt for the cheaper Game Pass subscriptions that might not get the full picture. To check each individual category, make sure you enable the filter for console, PC, or cloud-enabled games. Also keep in mind that the console titles include EA Play games, which are not included with a standard Game Pass Console subscription.

Each of these libraries is constantly shifting, 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 also discounts to buy games that are leaving Game Pass, so keep an eye out for those if you want to keep playing.

In general, there are lots of great games to choose from on all platforms. For example, all first-party games are added on the day they’re released. This means you could play the Halo: Infinite campaign or hop into Starfield right away without having to shell 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
  • Deathloop
  • Doom Eternal
  • FIFA 23
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Forza Horizon 5
  • Gears 5
  • GRID
  • 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
  • Prey
  • 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?

Xbox game pass vs Ultimate: cloud gaming with Razer Kishi
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

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 or PC. 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 the fact that it includes hundreds of games out of the box gives 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 terms of raw power. Streaming performance, however, is still a bit choppy as of mid-2023.

Cloud gaming is poised to revolutionize the way 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?

xbox series x vs series s controllers
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

When comparing Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate the main consideration is where you want to game. If you plan on playing on console, Game Pass Ultimate is nearly always a better choice. The added value of online multiplayer is too good to pass up for most. That said, 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 be missing 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 not relevant for PC gamers, so there isn’t much reason to upgrade. it’s also $7 cheaper per month, which is 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 on your Samsung smart TV. Playing Xbox games on your phone or via a TV without a console is just really cool, and it’s only going to get better as time goes on. Cloud games are also all taken from the console library, so it’s the only way to play console-only games that aren’t included in PC Game Pass.

Xbox Game Pass Logo
Xbox Game Pass
Tons of games for one low price
You can give the gamer in your life access to over 200 Xbox One games with a monthly subscription to Xbox Game Pass. The great games include old classics and modern blockbusters.
Xbox Game Pass Logo
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Xbox Live Gold and over 100 high-quality games for one low monthly price.
Joining Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will upgrade your remaining Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass for Console or Xbox Game Pass for PC time into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for the same amount of time, up to 36 months.