With stay-at-home orders being a constant interruption in my professional life this year, it has left me with more time on my hands, but less money to enjoy a hobby I have had since the 1980’s. Outside of a few game purchases for gifting reasons, life at home during quarantine has allowed me to look at something that I had been subscribing to, but not utilizing: XBOX Game Pass.
Yes, money has been tight around the house this year, and 14.99 a month is a luxury not everyone can afford. Even with the cost, we have cut back on a few other things (going out to eat, buying frivolous things whenever a random whim would hit us, or the most difficult one: reducing our alcohol consumption), but Game pass was not one of them. I had boiled it down to two obvious benefits:
1 – They had a wide variety of games that I did not have to buy out of the gate that I could choose from, ranging from indies to big budget blockbusters, as well as all the Xbox exclusives, &
2 – There was no need to leave the house to go & purchase games, or give more money to the all-powerful amazon.
This year was not my first with Game Pass. I began to subscribe to the service when it first launched, finding it easier to bundle my ‘Games with Gold/Xbox Live’ sub with the new “Netflix of Gaming” deal. Since then, I rarely used it since I never had the time, in between all the jobs and spending time with the family. My fiancée would use it more often, usually during her breaks from studies or after the kid went to sleep while I was still working; she fell in love with Cuphead & Hollow Knight, two games that have been on game pass for some time now, while she tried others and did not have to feel the guilt of buying a game, not liking it, and trying to unload it for the fraction of what the game was worth.
In 2019, I had made a huge purchasing mistake. Since the release of the new console generation, my personal focus on purchasing games revolved around me waiting until the prices of games (usually game of the year or ultimate versions so I could get all that sweet, almost necessary DLC along with the main game) dropped to a price low enough for my wallet (as well as my mental state) to stomach, but that year there were 2 games where I believed the hype enough to pay full price for them.
Anthem launched in February that year, followed by the Division II in March. I had beta tested the first Division, enjoying the game during my playthrough, but I repeated the error that I made when I beta tested Destiny; I had played it too much in an open play weekend, and I was unable to bring my player from that weekend into the game. Having to replay the areas that I had already been through multiple times, I decided to wait until a sale or find a time I felt that I was in the position to enjoy the game with new eyes.
This feeling of wanting to go back never materialized, partly due to other games coming out, along with my friends already being done with the game and never wanting to jump on & play a few hours with me. When the trailer for the sequel dropped during the E3 in 2018, I was back on board, and not wanting to err by playing through the first one to prepare for the second one, I decided to wait until release, pre-ordering it online.
That same E3 also cemented my interest in Anthem; a game that, since release, has not lived up to its promise. I had preordered the game and made a play schedule to stick to after its release, mostly playing after work and while the kid was asleep to maximize my time with the game before the Division II arrived a few weeks later. Amazing as it felt to fly through tunnels or bodies of water, drop in on scars (the main enemy/cannon-fodder that is rolling through that world) or even in the middle of packs of animals on the surface of Anthem, there was barely any meat on it, having to grind the same missions repeatedly just to level up my character. Along with none of my friends believing the hype, most saying they didn’t have the time for that game due to work and family, plus getting stuck at before reaching a mission checkpoint only to be left behind for entire segments, or just having no idea where to go or why objectives were not clearly marked at times, I only lasted to level 15 in that game (about 3 weeks of playing per my schedule), and quickly jumped into The Division II upon release.
This was a little different as far as loot shooters go. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the game, but I suffered the same affliction that I had with Anthem. No one I knew who still played their Xbox’s by this time & played the first Division showed a modicum of interest in the second one. They had experienced that I was about to, having played 2 loot shooters in a row: the affectation of the ennui of gameplay. Although both were different, the grind was repetitive, & with no one I could speak to while playing, the boredom hit me quickly. 17 levels, & I was out. Although I can keep going about the problems of loot shooters (& I might continue to do so in another post), I no longer was interested in purchasing a new game for the Xbox One for quite some time. I kept my downloads to Games with Gold (GWG), a service that began to get ignored once Game Pass started to gain momentum.
The Stay At Home Order
I perused through my games I already downloaded from GWG as well, picking out games that were reviewed favorably or that seemed to be my style I usually played, but I ended up playing most games & not finishing them, or going back to Halo or something on Switch. This all changed in the last few months.
I had begun with the 2 games I purchased in 2019, maxing out my level (both to 30, although you could buy new DLC for Division II that would get you to 40, but I wasn’t interested in spending more money), plus completing all of the missions, side missions, & pseudo-side quests that had impact on the story (or whatever was nearest to me on the map), then began looking to play some of the free games on the service.
Hellblade, Quantum Break, Tomb Raider, Gears 4 & 5, Alan Wake (I had missed this one when it came out almost a decade ago) & Hollow Knight were just a few that I tried out, and I loved most of them. Looking back at the games available, plus the games soon to be released as first party outings (since Microsoft was acquiring game studios like some kids grab candy at the corner store on allowance day), why wasn’t I doing this before?
The answer came upon opening the Game Pass panel to do research for this article: the user interface is a bit of a nightmare. “The Netflix of Games” is what most reviewers and video game pundits call Game Pass, and they are similar in one way: It is easy for things to get lost or forgotten with so many options. I did not have the time before to just browse, watching one trailer after another, trying to look for something that may interest me enough to then download and play 20 minutes from now. I ended up doing the same things that I did with most other streaming video services, and that was just browsing and adding to my “must watch” list, but never actually consuming content.
I believe this problem will start to disappear once the new Xbox Series X begins to get into more homes, promising faster loading times once the game is installed onto the new hard drive. Still, the UI hasn’t changed much for the service, so the gamer still has a chance to become trapped in a never-ending cycle of click, trailer, add to download list, repeat, until something better is thought up. For a future segment, I am working on a “Top 5 games of each Genre” which are on Game Pass for The Open Tab News. I will also be publishing my gaming updates, posting some reviews of older games that I missed since I worked too much over the last decade of my life, plus I am working on starting a streaming channel on YouTube. Hope to see you there!