If you’ve upgraded your PC’s operating system to Windows 10 or bought a computer that came with Microsoft’s newest OS, you may have noticed a new, bright-green icon in the Start Menu: Xbox. The free (and recently revamped) Xbox app lets you perform many Xbox-related functions on your Windows 10 PC, including purchasing select Xbox One titles, voice chatting with friends, and recording gameplay footage. Unfortunately, Xbox lacks the massive game library to lure PC gamers away from Steam en masse, but it can coexist comfortably with Valve’s gaming marketplace because of the cool exclusive titles and Xbox Live elements it brings to the desktop.
To understand why Xbox is on PC, take a second to ponder Microsoft’s current position in the gaming world. Microsoft is warring with Sony on the console hardware side and with Valve on the software side, so extending the reach of its gaming division lets Redmond sell games to a demographic that may not own, or plan to purchase, an Xbox One S or Xbox One X. The move is a wise one, as it lets PC gamers enjoy high-profile games that probably would have been exclusive to Xbox consoles in the past.
Xbox Livens Up Your PC
Getting started is a breeze, as the app is baked into Windows 10. In fact, the app is only available for Microsoft’s newest operating system, so if your rig runs something older, you’ll need to upgrade the OS to get a taste of it.
The good news is that every person who has a Windows 10 PC has the Xbox app; the bad news is that it’s a challenge to uninstall. Thankfully, the app is unobtrusive, so it doesn’t get in the way if you want to launch, say, Steam or Epic Games Store.
I signed in to the Xbox app with the same credentials I’ve used since my days gaming on the Xbox 360, and my Xbox Avatar and friends list appeared. You can also create a new account from scratch, if you choose.
The Xbox app experience on Windows 10 is much like the analogous service on Xbox One, so I chatted and exchanged messages with friends (you can now link your Steam, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch accounts to stay in touch with pals), tweaked my Xbox Avatar with a variety of cool gear after I downloaded the separate Xbox Avatar app from Windows Store), recorded gameplay footage, and purchased games as part of my testing.
Xbox Game Library
The best thing about the Xbox app is that it lets you purchase and download Xbox One titles to your PC without a console. There’s one caveat, however: The PC store selection is not nearly as broad as the console library. Naturally, you’ll find many Microsoft-owned titles, such as Cuphead and Forza Horizon 4, but not River City Girls or Final Fantasy XIII Remastered. It lacks Xbox 360 games, too. That said, there’s a growing number of third-party titles that nicely round out the storefront, such as Football Manager 2019, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Metal Slug X, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shenmue I & II.
Unlike the previous version of the Xbox app, this version has a full fledged, standalone store and not merely a Windows Store launcher. This is a huge improvement, as you no longer need to wade through casual and mobile games; it gives Xbox a PC-centric feel that conveys Microsoft’s new PC focus.
Xbox Store on PC has game discovery features in the expected categories (Best-Sellers, Multiplayer Games), but lacks Steam’s deeper dives, such as something that resembles Steam Curator Groups. That’s not a major negative, though; Xbox Store on PC is still in its infancy stage.
When Two Become One
Microsoft’s platform unification means you only need to buy select games once to play them in multiple locations. The Xbox Play Anywhere initiative means that certain digital games you purchase are available for play on both PC and Xbox One—an excellent, inspired move by Microsoft. Your saves, DLC purchases, and achievements are available on both platforms, too.
Xbox Play Anywhere currently supports 50 games, including Killer Instinct and Resident Evil 7 Biohazard. It’s a wonderful feature, one that I wish Sony would adopt for PlayStation Now.
If you own an Xbox One, you can stream any game from it to a PC on the same network. It works well, too—if you’re on a wired connection, that is. In my tests, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain stuttered a bit and suffered resolution dips when streamed via a wireless connection, but played damn near flawlessly over a wired connection. It’s not true PC gaming, as you need an Xbox One, but if you prefer to game on a laptop or desktop, it’s a nice way to bring more games to your Windows 10 setup.
As the app taps Xbox Live for online play, you can game with both PC and console players—and you don’t have to fork out money for an Xbox Live subscription for multiplayer gaming. I had a blast exchanging fists and feet with other Killer Instinct players.
Xbox Game Pass for PC
In spring 2019, Microsoft brought one of its most profitable and critically acclaimed features to PC: Xbox Game Pass. Currently in beta, Xbox GamePass for PC is an all-you-can-eat subscription service that lets you dive into a library of more than 100 titles and enjoy discounts on game purchases. In fact, Xbox Game Studios titles appear on Game Pass the same day that they go on sale, so you can immediately dive into a hot title like Gears 5.
So, how much does all this cost? During the Xbox Game Pass for PC beta, the service costs just $1 per month (regularly, it would be $4.99 per month). Microsoft also offers Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a higher-tier subscription that includes everything in vanilla Game Pass for PC plus access to more than 100 console games and Xbox Live Gold (Deals with Gold, Games with Gold, and console multiplayer). This is the tier for a person who owns both a PC and Xbox console. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is currently $1 per month (discounted from $14.99 per month).
Xbox Game Bar
Game Bar—the floating toolbar that’s invoked with the simultaneous pressing of the Windows and G keys or pressing start on an Xbox controller—received a massive overhaul in the Windows 10 May 2019 update.
Now, the overlay has a much-welcome customizable UI, Spotify integration, and meme creation functionality. As in previous iterations, Game Bar lets you stream gameplay sessions via Mixer, post that you’re Looking For Group in a multiplayer title, and initiate Game DVR recording.
The Big Playback
Xbox also brings game recording and snapshot functionality to your PC via the app’s integrated Game DVR. You can set it to record the last 10 minutes of your current play session, which made it a fine tool for capturing footage of me bodying a gaming journalist from another publication in Killer Instinct. There’s also an option for up to 4 hours of non-background recording.
Game DVR lets you select your recording’s frame rate (30 or 60 frames per second), video quality (Standard or High), bit rate (up to 192kbps), and microphone and system volume.
In my tests, Game DVR worked well when it came to recording my fighting game sessions with the fellas. In a nice touch, the Xbox app lets you upload video files and screenshots to your account’s cloud storage, so you can access the files from another PC running the Xbox app or an Xbox One.
And if you want to live stream video, you can launch Mixer from Xbox Game Bar. With Mixer, you can tweak the stream’s resolution and frames per second, position your webcam’s in-stream location, and activate or deactivate your mic, camera, or chat room.
It’s a Contender
Xbox on PC is excellent, giving Microsoft (finally!) a modern, gamer-centric platform on the personal computer. It brings Microsoft Game Studios titles to PC, so no one needs to shell out cash for a dedicated console. As the PC game store wars heat up, it’ll be interesting to see how Xbox evolves as Steam, Epic Games Store, and other outlets vye for gamers’ dollars. With a fresh look and feel, and the wonderful Game Pass in its back pocket, Xbox is in a position to achieve success.