Xbox Cloud Gaming Beta Preview: A Force To Be Reckoned With – When It’s Ready
Over the past decade, Cloud Gaming has grown from an abject failure to a service that some publishers say will revolutionize gaming. Whether the future really resides in a server farm somewhere in the future doesn’t matter. , because today’s gamers can choose from a number of strong cloud services, each with their own unique advantages. Microsoft, however, does not aim to be “just another” cloud service. Xbox Cloud Games aim for the top, but does it have what it takes to get there?
Microsoft announced that Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly Project XCloud) will start PC test in December 2020. For those unfamiliar with Xbox Cloud Gaming or Project Xcloud, the service essentially allows gamers to jump into Xbox games and stream them to multiple devices. Previously, Xbox Cloud was only available for Android devices, but now the service is in testing for PC and iOS in a much anticipated move. Unlike Stadia and Geforce Now, Xbox Cloud will let you stream Game Pass games, so you inherently get a library full of games, ready to play.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, this article is not about the Game Pass library. By far, Game Pass is probably the best value in gaming, period. Instead, this article will focus on the performance of the Xbox cloud system, including its advantages and limitations, which it has a lot on both sides of. At the moment, Xbox Cloud is run through a browser. The advantage of Xbox Cloud Gaming through a browser is simple – just about any PC can run it. When it comes to accessibility, it was a fantastic move, and Stadia has shown that being able to play games through a browser is not only possible, but visual fidelity and performance shouldn’t be sacrificed.
Well done, for accessibility, but performance and visuals right now are the two main sticking points preventing the service from pushing Xbox Cloud Gaming past its competition. Microsoft originally designed Custom blades designed to accommodate Xbox One components to stream their games from their Azure regions around the world. At some point this year, Microsoft plans to upgrade their custom blades to Xbox Series X hardware, which may alleviate some of the performance and visual issues I encountered in my beta testing. What exactly are these problems, you ask? Let’s break them down one by one:
Launching a game and loading time
One of my favorite things about cloud gaming is that I don’t have to update the game if I want to play it. I love my Xbox Series X, it’s a great system, but it seems like every few weeks I’m installing a new Xbox update or a game needs to be fixed, resulting in minutes or hours of playing time lost. Cloud gaming solves it all. You log in, select the Game Pass game you want to play, and you’re ready to go! Or at least, that’s how it should work. Load times were generally quite long compared to the console and in some cases even to other stream service times. It was common for it to take 40 seconds or more from when I started a game until I got to a login screen.
It was difficult to make a one-to-one comparison, as Xbox Cloud is actually launching an Xbox version of the game of your choice, which means trying to compare a game’s load time between a service like GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud would essentially put a PC version of, say, Black Desert, against an Xbox version of the same game. Launching the game wasn’t the only time I noticed slow load times. Almost any loading screen had the potential to go on forever, and it really felt like I was back on my first-gen Xbox One.
Gameplay and controls
I have tried playing through Xbox Cloud Gaming on a laptop and my gaming desktop PC. My laptop uses a strong Wifi-5 connection that I have used with GeForce Now to play a number of games, including from Cyberpunk 2077, at Guild Wars 2, no problem. Xbox Cloud Gaming unfortunately struggled to stay consistent no matter what I ended up playing. Some games played significantly better than others. For example, I had minimal latency and controller lag when playing Outriders. Although I do not trust myself to participate in high level expeditions Outriders on Xbox Cloud Gaming, I was definitely able to go out into the world and kill bad guys without eating dirt.
Fallout 76 on the other hand, it was a complete mess. The world stuttered and charged pixelated in the distance, and I would often get stuck while moving, to the point that I would keep moving in a particular direction even if my hands were completely removed from the controller. Naturally, I thought my connection was the problem, despite GeForce Now’s relatively flawless performance. When I tried to play the same games on my gaming desktop with a wired connection, the issues persisted. As well as my character’s movement getting stuck constantly, the graphics were exceptionally poor, as pixilation was apparent all over the place, meaning there was probably a fair amount of compression in use during the stream.
In fact, during the stream, at maximum, my network would hit 10Mbps, while GFN consistently runs over 40Mbps with relative ease and much less compression. While some games seem to perform better than others, and Xbox Cloud Gaming is still in beta at the moment, it would be difficult for me to voluntarily attempt a serious gaming session with the way the service currently operates. In addition to the latency, you will need a controller to play cloud PC games, although the game says it can use “touch controls,” my attempts to use my Surface Book 2 to trying out touch play would not be recorded as an available input device.
Say HALO to the potential of Xbox Cloud
Okay, the Xbox Cloud beta so far hasn’t been the life-changing industry experience I had hoped for. It still looks like there’s quite a bit of work for Microsoft before Xbox Cloud Gaming can even bring up the subject of being a candidate for Stadia, GeForce Now, or even Luna from Amazon, which is still in testing. It’s somewhat disappointing, coming from one of the biggest tech companies in the world, but there is precedent to believe that Microsoft is just getting started in the cloud gaming arena. Beneath the rough edges of Xbox Cloud Beta lies a sleeping giant, which was born out of the popularity of Game Pass, the acquisition of beloved studios like Bethesda and Obsidian, and a desire to make games more accessible by integrating Xbox games on PC. No, the service isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but I don’t see the rise of Xbox Cloud Gaming as a question of “if” it will become the first cloud service, but rather a question of ” when”.