Lets you purchase select Xbox One games on PC. Streams games from your Xbox One via Wi-Fi or wired connection. Supports voice chat and messaging. Integrated Game DVR lets you capture video footage. No charge for multiplayer gaming.
Extremely busy interface. TV features require connecting your PC to an Xbox One. App cannot be uninstalled.
- Bottom Line
Microsoft's Xbox app brings Xbox Live elements to Windows 10 PCs, but it won't dethrone Steam as the PC gaming ecosystem of choice.
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 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 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.
Liven 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 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 cannot be uninstalled, so you must deal with its existence by using it, ignoring it, or unpinning it from the Start Menu. Thankfully, the app is unobtrusive, so it doesn't get in the way if you want to launch, say, Steam.
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, Gamerscore, and friends list appeared as I remembered them. 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, tweaked my Xbox Avatar with a variety of cool gear (after I downloaded the separate Xbox Avatar app from the Windows store—more on that marketplace later), recorded gameplay footage, and purchased games as part of my testing.
Game Bar (invoked with the simultaneous pressing of the Windows and G keys) has been redesigned in the Windows 10 April 2018 update with an attractive Fluent design, a clock, and additional controls. It also lets you stream gameplay sessions via Mixer.com, initiate Game DVR recording (more on that in a bit), and launch Game Mode.
Game Mode, for those who aren't familair with the setting, prioritizes system resources for the game you're playing, deemphasizing background tasks. You can control this and other gaming features in the dedicated Gaming section of Settings.
Xbox Game Library
Unlike the recently released PlayStation Now, which lets you stream PlayStation 3 games for $20 per month (or $100 per year), Xbox lets you purchase and download individual Xbox One titles to your PC. There's one caveat: The selection is almost entirely Microsoft-exclusive titles, such as Cuphead and Quantum Break.
On the topic of buying games, you don't actually purchase Windows 10 titles using the Xbox app. When you click a game title in Xbox, it launches the Windows Store, the marketplace from which you actually make the purchase. I'm not a fan of adding extra steps to a process like this. I also personally dislike the Windows Store for another reason: It's filled with casual and mobile games, which prevents the marketplace from having Steam's PC-gaming feel. Your mileage may vary, however.
In a nice touch, Microsoft lets you buy Xbox One console games from within the Xbox app, so you don't have to leave your PC to pick up Minecraft for your dedicated gaming box.
When Two Become One
Microsoft's platform unification means you only need to buy a game once to play it in multiple locations. The Xbox Play Anywhere initiative means that any 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 43 games, including Forza Horizon 3 and Killer Instinct. That said, five more games are slated to appear in the near future, including the oft-delayed Crackdown 3. I wish Sony would walk a similar path with its PlayStation titles, instead of giving PC gamers a half-baked streaming service.
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.
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 in testing. 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, download the Twitch-like Mixer from the Windows 10 Store. It integrates into the Xbox app, thus letting you broadcast your play sessions. With Mixer, you can tweak the stream's resolution and frames per second, and activate or deactivate your mic, camera, or chat room.
The interface is a cluttered mess. I found it confusing to navigate, even after using it for several days. I dipped into Settings to deactivate some of the alerts and feeds, but there were still far too many panels and sections to keep track of. Simplifying the interface would go a long way to improving the app.
I also don't like the fact that Microsoft requires users to connect their PCs to their Xbox Ones in order to enjoy movie and TV programming from streaming video providers like Crackle and ESPN. I have an Amazon Prime account, for example, so why can't I input my credentials and watch Bosch? It's frustrating.
For every step forward Microsoft has taken in bringing Xbox to PC (Xbox Play Anywhere, Game DVR, game streaming, free online multiplayer gaming), the company takes a step back with questionable moves (a cluttered interface, requiring an Xbox One console for streaming video features).
Still, it's difficult to ignore the app's potential. Xbox on PC has a much higher ceiling than PlayStation Now, as it's capable of bringing exclusive, current-generation titles to your gaming rig. But in order to reach that potential, Microsoft desperately needs to fill the Windows Store with console-quality titles to make it a destination for devotees of PC gaming.
I'll happily revisit the Xbox app in the future, as the service continues to grow and evolve. Xbox isn't a must-have app (except in the sense that you have no choice but to have it on Windows 10). Chances are good that you have it anyhow, though, so you should try it if you fancy playing Killer Instinct and other Microsoft exclusives on a desktop or laptop.
Other Microsoft PC Games
About the Author
Jeffrey L. Wilson Senior Analyst, Software
For more than a decade, Jeffrey L. Wilson has penned gadget- and video game-related nerd-copy for a variety of publications, including 1UP, 2D-X, The Cask, Laptop, LifeStyler, Parenting, Sync, Wise Bread, and WWE. He now brings his knowledge and skillset to PCMag as Senior Analyst. When he isn't staring at a monitor (or two) and churning out Web… See Full Bio
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