There’s no denying that Xbox Game Pass is, for the lack of a better term, a game-changing prospect. For the first time ever players are no longer being forced to pay full price for their games, instead having the option to check out titles they otherwise may have skipped by subscribing to Microsoft’s dedicated game streaming platform. It’s also now incredibly convenient since xCloud has effectively cut out the need to own an Xbox console entirely. However, for as great a value proposition as Game Pass truly is, it’s still lacking that one crucial element: launch day hits people actually care about.
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This isn’t to say that we haven’t already seen high-profile releases launch straight into Xbox Game Pass on day one. Quite the opposite. It’s more so the case that recent examples such as Grounded, Outriders, and especially Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance have vastly underwhelmed when it comes to players’ expectations, either due to ongoing technical difficulties, half-baked mechanics, or relatively sparse content. All the games mentioned are entertaining enough on a surface-level and can engage you for a little while, sure, but not one could be considered an absolute must-play.
Such instances are indicative of a service still finding its feet, happy to gobble up any Triple-A game that might struggle to sell or find a large player base through traditional means because it simply looks good to say: “it’s here on day one”. And sure, while that saves players from throwing away $60 they can then spend on something more worthwhile, keeping Game Pass members afloat with sure-fire 6 and 7/10s only gets you so far. In order to be considered a genuine pioneer Xbox Game Pass needs to play host to prestige titles that people A) want to play and B) can’t do so elsewhere.
This year’s Microsoft + Bethesda E3 showcase proved that the first-party blockbusters are coming, yet for the time being genuine GOTY contenders seem scarce. Phil Spencer didn’t do too much to detract from this sentiment recently either, when he told IGN that Halo Infinite won’t “make or break” the franchise – indicating that the Halo franchise will carry on regardless of the new entry’s quality or reception. Okay, that’s fine, but it’s a weird way to promote a genuine platform exclusive – releasing day one on Game Pass – that players have waited 3+ years for. It’s almost like Xbox is prepping for disappointment. And if we can’t get excited about Infinite, what can we get excited about? Thank heavens, then, that Forza Horizon 5 is shaping up to be great, yet the odds are always unfortunately stacked against a racing game breaking into the mainstream.
It seems strange not to want to go big and take risks with a game like Halo: Infinite when Microsoft has done such a good job at doing this elsewhere. From continuing to make all first-party titles instantly available on Game Pass, to investing in the PC audience and ensuring gaming is generally more accessible than ever, Microsoft has solved all these issues. Now it just needs Triple-A games, because so far not one Triple-A day one Game Pass release has come close to the quality of select PlayStation titles like, say, Ghost of Tsushima or The Last of Us Part II. AKA games that get people talking, are technically sound and are worth buying into an eco-system for.
Xbox Game Pass is often hailed as the “Netflix of games”, so in many ways it shouldn’t be surprising to see both streaming services share similar troubles in their infancy. In the early days Netflix was greenlighting anything and everything it could, relying on subpar exclusive shows while quietly pooling its resources until it eventually landed on a critical darling in House of Cards. The difference here, however, is that it’s now been four years since the debut of Xbox Game Pass, and members are still left pining for a consistent stream of unmitigated bangers. You could argue that 2019’s Gears 5 came close, yet it’s considered far from being the best entry and it’s been a long time since then.
Day one foibles aside, Xbox Game Pass is still in a great place at the moment. As an ever-expanding library of games spanning multiple eras and genres, average players who are willing to experiment with their playlist habits will be satisfied. It’s also acted as a proven launchpad for indie darlings, having shed the spotlight on smaller gems like The Outer Wilds, Cyber Shadow and Spiritfarer that may otherwise have struggled to cut above the noise.
The challenge now is for Microsoft’s streaming platform to pull off a similar trick on a much grander scale, securing must-play Xbox games that players would typically be willing to pay for. Right now it’s more being used to showcase games often destined to fail on the Triple-A front, almost acting as a cushion that can lessen any negative impact received by the likes of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance when it lands dead on arrival.
Subscribers currently don’t mind so much whenever this occurs as both the price and barrier to entry is so low. However, the stage is now set for Xbox Game Pass to be thought of as so much more, and hopefully future day one releases like Back 4 Blood, Redfall or even possibly the fast-approaching Psychonauts 2 can solidify that.
Xbox Game Pass is available now.