New Xbox app and Game Pass tested: Major improvements but disappointing lack of mod support

New Xbox app and Game Pass tested: Major improvements but disappointing lack of mod support

New Xbox app and Game Pass tested: Major improvements but disappointing lack of mod support


It’s crazy to see the new Xbox (beta) app side-by-side with the original, now rebranded as the Xbox Console Companion. There are three tabs at the top of the new app: Game Pass, Social, and Store, allowing you to browse your library of free Game Pass games, message friends, and buy games.By contrast, the console companion is an overpacked nightmare of panes and features that only works if you own an Xbox console or excellent bought into that ecosystem. As an interface for buying and downloading PC games from Microsoft, it’s a much better experience. Like Marie Kondo came in to clean the house.

To try out the new app, I bought Xbox Game Pass, downloaded some games, and spent some time playing them and using the new social features. After using the Xbox app for a few hours, I hope its current issues will be fixed while it’s in beta. This is a promising start.

Mostly good: Game Pass interface and store

The Game Pass store looks good, with big “cards” for each game that turn into autoplaying videos when you hover over them. Even though I have a 100Mb internet connection, it was a bit slow to load all these cards, at first I thought the library was much smaller than it actually was because when I scrolled through the “All Games” entry. The organization of the Game Pass library is also… not. On the homepage, you get new and popular games, and you can jump to specific genres, but the “All Games” list isn’t in any helpful or interpretable order.

There are other small details missing. The names of studios and game types are not links, so you can’t dig deep into the library like you can with Steam. If I’m on Forza and want to check out other racing games, I have to go back to the home page and scroll down to the racing section. Search can pull up game titles and even genres, but doesn’t seem reliable when it comes to things like developer names or descriptions. “Playground Games” doesn’t bring up Forza, and searching for “Bioshock” doesn’t bring up Void Bastards, despite the reference that appears in its front page description. The store’s interface and downsides are also largely the same as Game Pass (but it’s still more enjoyable than the cluttered Microsoft Store app).

There aren’t many orders here other than “surprise me!”

Downloading a bunch of games creates another interface problem. Icons for these games appear in the left sidebar, but in no apparent order. Install a lot of games, the scroll bar appears. It would be nice if all the games you installed had only one library tab, but not yet. If you click the drop-down menu of your profile icon, you can bring up the “Games I Own” library, but it won’t show your installed Game Pass games.

Perhaps Microsoft’s thinking here is that the library window is redundant simply because these games are all present in the Windows start menu and are easy to launch that way. That’s fair enough, but years of experience with Steam and other launchers have made me train a default library view for all of my currently installed games, and it feels weird not to have them collected somewhere.

Confused: Social Features

Messaging and invitations have been greatly simplified, although not completely reliable.

The new friends list and chat interface are awesome compared to the old app because it’s so simple. There’s a tab for your friends list, and a chat tab instead of a clutter of group and party options next to some list of screenshots your friends posted a month ago. Text chat is still a bit slow, which was a big problem with the old Xbox app, but no big deal here. A really cool feature is the ability to attach any screenshots or clips you take with your account – I found Ninja Gaiden screenshots I took on Xbox One X in November 2017 right at your fingertips.

The bad news is that some features seem to be broken or inconsistent at the moment. I tried to initiate a voice chat with Steven by clicking his icon and hitting start voice chat… but nothing happened, all I can say. Am I actively chatting, waiting for him? How would I know? He then tried to initiate one with me, and the “Join Voice” icon appeared in our chat window. But when I click it again, nothing happens. We can’t get it to work.

Also, there are some inconsistencies with the “Invite to Game” option when you right-click on a friend’s icon. I couldn’t get it to work in Broforce, but Steven was able to invite me to Sea of ​​Thieves. But hey, I’ve played a lot of Steam games over the years and the “invite to play” feature mysteriously doesn’t work. Network infrastructure is complex.

Ultimately, I think most PC gamers use Discord or something for voice chat, so it’s no big deal. But being able to get into the game together should be as painless as possible.

Hooray for Win32 games! *

*but they are not all Win32 and there still seems to be some UWP issues

After launching Game Pass on PC, I’ve seen some comments that this version of Metro Exodus has some big issues, either not launching at all, or not letting people save their graphics options, or crashing frequently. This is the first game I’ve downloaded, and in the introductory video I do have a crash when alt-tab exiting the game. But there was also a patch released on Thursday and I didn’t experience any major issues after installing it.

Here are the short patch notes:

“After the launch of Metro Exodus on Windows 32 Game Pass, some players were having issues saving and loading games. 4A and Microsoft have worked hard to resolve these issues and there is now a patch that will automatically update the app when you open your Game Pass program.”

Some reviewers still say they’re having issues, such as not being able to log in through the Game Pass app or changing graphics settings to DirectX 11. I can confirm the latter: my resolution and other graphics options were stuck, but Metro kept reverting to DX12 after I changed to DX11. As far as I can tell, this is the UWP version of the game, although the “Windows 32 Game Pass” mentioned above is odd.

There is no option to change Metro from a borderless window, it’s missing the benchmark file in its folder, which is available for the Epic version, and its executable is almost 150MB larger than the Epic version. I contacted Deep Silver with these questions and will update if I hear back.

With this new Xbox app and changes to the Microsoft Store in the May 2019 Windows Update, Microsoft can now offer Win32 games, not just Universal Windows Platform games. This is good news for a number of reasons: developers don’t have to convert their games to UWP, support for full screen, not just borderless windows, easy compatibility with tools like Fraps and Afterburner.

So far, it’s hard for me to say how this has shaken. Metro Exodus appears to be a UWP game, as is Operencia: The Stolen Sun, but since it’s been on the Microsoft Store for weeks, it makes sense. Other games I tested did have a standard full-screen mode to choose from. So Win32 games: yes, right?

Apart from the bad news: as far as I know, they are not easily modifiable due to the way Game Pass games are protected. This is one of the main advantages of supporting Win32. The fact remains that these are often inferior versions of games already available elsewhere on PC.

No mod support is a big disadvantage

Let’s start with the obvious: Steam Workshop-enabled games won’t be able to use these mods through Xbox Game Pass. I downloaded the great Slay the Spire that I already have on Steam. There, it asks if I want to start the game with mods when I start the game. Head over to the Steam Workshop and you’ll see some card packs and even brand new characters designed by modders that can be added to the game with just one click. This is not an option for Game Pass.

Of course not – as nice as it is, it doesn’t make sense to expect games delivered via Microsoft’s platform to use the Steam API. Even more distressing, these games can’t be manually modified either. I read that Microsoft said in the E3 Inside Xbox stream that it supports (or will support) the modification, but I can’t find the source, and my own experience is the opposite.

I had to modify Windows security permissions to access the folder where Game Pass games were stored, and then the files in it were marked read-only and strictly protected, and there was no easy workaround to change that.

It’s entirely possible that there is or will be a workaround because you can use the right tools to modify anything in Windows. But for now, I can’t even install a simple mod for Metro Exodus to bypass its startup video because I can’t modify the folder.

These games are essentially rental games, there are a lot of games on Game Pass right now, and there are sure to be more games that are already better on other platforms: Rise of Nations, Broforce, Imperator: Rome, Surviving Mars, and MudRunner , just to name a few.

But it’s still early days for the new Xbox app and the Win32-enabled Microsoft Store. So while I doubt the mod will work with Game Pass, I expect it to at least work fine with most games purchased from the Microsoft Store.

Game Pass is a good deal, even with limited editions of some games. It gives you dozens of games for $5/month during the beta period, and I can see a lot of PC gamers using Game Pass for most of the games they play, then buying them on Steam when they need mod support specific game. The new Xbox app may be a bit sluggish and feature-complete, but it’s probably the best PC gaming software Microsoft has made since…I don’t know when. Before Games For Windows Live came along, that was for sure.

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Wilbert Wood
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