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 standard Xbox Game Pass vs Game Pass Ultimate, things can get a bit complicated.
To help you decide, we put together this comprehensive guide to the two services. If you want to learn more about a specific service, check out our dedicated pages at the links below.
Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate: At a glance
At first glance, Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate may seem to offer the same thing. And in many ways, they do.
Both are subscription services that unlock a variety of AAA and indie games for one low monthly fee. The major difference is where you can play these games, and what extra features are included.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that there are actually three services here: Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The first is just for the Xbox One, Xbox Series S, or Xbox Series X consoles. The second option is just for PC, and the third includes both and more. Much more, in fact.
The core feature for all Game Pass subscriptions is access to tons 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 or Xbox console (depending on the subscription). For the standard Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass for PC, that’s exactly what you’re paying for: access to this library.
However, there is one key feature missing that most console gamers will need: Xbox Live Gold. This is required to play games online with your friends (except for free-to-play games, which are free to play online as of 2021). This subscription alone costs $9.99 a month.
The good news is that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate does include Xbox Live Gold. The premium subscription bundles Xbox Game Pass, Game Pass for PC, Xbox Live Gold, and Xbox game streaming (more on this later) into a single service.
Microsoft also added EA Play to Game Pass Ultimate 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. That said, it’s limited to consoles for now, with no concrete news on PC support as of now.
When it comes to pricing, both Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate come in cheaper than a standard Netflix subscription. The cheapest plans are Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC, each of which runs $9.99 a month. There aren’t any discounts for multi-month subscriptions, with cards for 3- 6- and 12-month subscriptions costing the same as paying month-to-month.
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 and indie darlings (more on this in the next section). Do note, however, that the game library is not exactly the same for PC and console.
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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate takes that value even further, costing just $5 more at $14.99. For console gamers, you’re already saving money on purchasing Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold when you go Ultimate. 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, the extra features aren’t very enticing.
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 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 typically discounts to outright 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 can play Halo Infinite 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:
- Age of Empires III (PC only)
- Aragami 2
- Battlefield V (Ultimate only)
- Cities: Skylines
- Dead Cells
- Destiny 2: Beyond Light (console only)
- Doom Eternal
- Dragon Quest XI S
- FIFA 21
- Forza Horizon 4
- Gears 5
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- Minecraft Dungeons
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- The Outer Worlds
- Resident Evil 7
- Slay the Spire
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Ultimate only)
- Streets of Rage 4
- Tetris Effect: Connected
- Titanfall (Ultimate only)
- What Remains of Edith Finch
Without a doubt, the biggest difference between Xbox Game Pass 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 Google Stadia (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 means it will eventually surpass Stadia, at least in terms of raw power.
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.
Xbox Game Pass vs Ultimate: Which is best?
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 Xbox Live Gold 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 is still a great value.
If you play on console, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is probably a better choice.
The situation shifts when it comes to PC gamers. Most of the added benefits of Ultimate (namely EA Play and Xbox Live Gold) currently don’t work on PC, so there isn’t much reason to upgrade. That said, you can only access Xbox Cloud Gaming on PC with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which might tip the scales for fans of streaming tech.
The other big deciding factor is cloud gaming on your phone. Playing Xbox games on your phone is absolutely incredible, and it’s only going to get better as time goes on. An extra five bucks a month is a paltry sum to pay for a small taste of the future of gaming.