Some of the games available on the Xbox Game Pass, as seen in Google Chrome, on June 28. (Microsoft screenshot)
Microsoft announced Monday that its Xbox Cloud Gaming service, formerly known as Project xCloud, has officially expanded into the world of web browsers.
Starting today, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers with Windows 10 PCs or iOS phones or tablets can use Chrome, Edge, or Safari with the official Xbox website to pull up and play a curated list of titles, including Wizards of the Coast’s brand-new game Dark Alliance.
By doing so, you’re dialing into a Microsoft datacenter that’s running the game you chose. It should boot up quickly, with no local installation required, so you can run high-end games on low-end hardware and start playing in a couple of minutes.
Cloud Gaming via web browser has been in an invitation-only beta on Game Pass for the last couple of months. As of today, however, all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers have access to the browser version, as long as they have a compatible PC, phone, or tablet.
The Xbox Cloud Gaming service originally debuted in late 2019 under the working title “Project xCloud,” as an additional invitation-only option for Ultimate-level Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Its later attempts to bring the Game Pass to iOS via the Apple App Store were stymied back in September by a change in Apple’s terms of service, to which Microsoft reacted by looking to find browser-based solutions.
Microsoft’s announcement also revealed that the Xbox Cloud Gaming service is now running off of custom Xbox Series X hardware. Games streamed off of the Xbox cloud can now run at up to 60 FPS in 1080p resolution, with dramatically improved load times over last month’s version of the service.
As a point of clarification: the Cloud Gaming service is now running off of Series X hardware, but it is not yet available for the Series X. The handful of people who’ve been able to grab a Series X or S at retail have not received anything with today’s announcement.
“With billions of active Windows 10 PCs, iOS devices and Android phones, we want you to have new opportunities to play the deepest, most immersive games whenever and wherever you choose,” Xbox’s Catherine Gluckstein wrote. “Simply put, we’re bringing the Xbox experience directly to the devices you use most.”
Players on the cloud can use the Xbox’s wireless controller, once it’s hooked up to their devices via Bluetooth, or any other compatible gamepad from Microsoft’s official list.
Roughly half of the games on the service can also be played with mobile-friendly touch controls. While some are no particular surprise — Slay the Spire, Tell Me Why, Dragon Quest XI — due to not being games that require quick reflexes, there are a couple of shockers on the list like Killer Instinct, Celeste, and Gears 5. Microsoft apparently has a lot of faith in the fidelity of its touch controls, if they’re compatible with games that at least reward if not require a significant degree of precision.
I took some time this afternoon to give the new version of Xbox Cloud Gaming a quick test drive. Its load times have sped up as much as was advertised; one of the drawbacks of the service was that starting any game meant you got to stare at the weird rocketship loading screen for a long minute or two before the game launched. Now, even when I gave it a shot on janky WiFi, I was in-game in seconds.
Naturally, this does nothing to mitigate the issues posed by cloud gaming. It’s a bandwidth hog, it’s extremely sensitive to lag, and it gets dramatically worse with games that require you to stay connected to their server at the same time you’re streaming data from the cloud.
It does open up a lot of options for Game Pass subscribers, however, particularly if you view it as a way to “try before you buy.” Just before this year’s virtual E3 show, Microsoft put out a pre-recorded press conference where Xbox VIPs described the Game Pass’ curated selection as a “discovery engine,” which actually improves the sales of any title that’s included on the service.
While I have logistical issues with cloud gaming in general, there’s no denying that it’s a fast and convenient way to try something new. It can only improve the value of what’s already one of the better deals in the modern gaming landscape.