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Forget Xbox Series X: Why Xbox Game Pass is all you need

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CNN
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Trying to play the Xbox Series X restock game is still a nightmare, and even if you manage to land one of Microsoft’s new consoles, you’ll be shelling out $300 or $500 for them. Fortunately, Microsoft itself is making it easier than ever to skip that whole headache while still getting to play all of its games.

The company just announced that Xbox Game Pass subscribers will eventually be able to stream Xbox games right from their smart TVs, and that it’s working on its own streaming devices that will let you access Xbox titles from just about any display with an HDMI port.

This could soon make Xbox Game Pass, which we already consider to be the best value in gaming, even more worth the money. Perhaps more significantly, it’s one more reason to hold off on obsessively refreshing your browser in hopes of buying an expensive, hard-to-find Xbox Series X or Series S.

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Microsoft

For the uninitiated, Xbox Game Pass is a monthly subscription service that gets you access to hundreds of games that you can play across Xbox consoles, PCs and mobile devices, depending on which tier you pay for.

  • Xbox Game Pass Console ($9.99 per month; microsoft.com): Access to hundreds of games playable on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
  • Xbox Game Pass PC ($1 to join, originally $9.99 per month; microsoft.com): Access to hundreds of games playable on Windows 10 PCs.
  • Xbox Game Pass Ultimate ($1 to join; microsoft com): Access to all games in the PC and console libraries, in addition to cloud streaming on mobile devices and web browsers as well as Xbox Live Gold for multiplayer access on Xbox and exclusive discounts.

You don’t need powerful hardware to enjoy the service, which includes games from major franchises like Halo, Star Wars and Madden, as you can stream many of its games directly to your Android or iOS device. And Microsoft is getting set to blow the availability of Game Pass even more wide open — meaning you probably already have everything you need to start enjoying Xbox games even if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a console (or just can’t find one).

In a blog post, the company announced plans to “embed the Xbox experience directly into internet-connected televisions,” letting you hop into a quick race in Forza Horizon 4 or a heated Gears 5 multiplayer match directly from your TV. The company didn’t mention which manufacturers and models will be supported, but given its plans to get Game Pass in as many places as possible, we’d expect the service to land on many of our favorite TVs from the likes of Sony, TCL, Samsung and LG.

And if you haven’t quite made the jump to a smart TV, Xbox is working on its own streaming devices that will let you play games from just about any TV or monitor out there. We don’t have a ton of details on these just yet, but we’d bet on at least one low-cost, compact dongle — think something in the vein of a Roku stick or Google Chromecast. This way, you’ll be able to turn any TV into an Xbox machine, likely for a small fraction of the price of buying a console.

Finally, Xbox Game Pass will be fully rolled out to Chrome, Edge and Safari web browsers soon, meaning just about any laptop or desktop will be able to play Xbox games. That makes some of our top laptop picks like the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air a lot more appealing for the gaming-curious — these machines aren’t powerful enough to run demanding games on their own, but they’ll soon be able to run titles like Doom Eternal and Skyrim via the cloud.

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Otterbox

While Xbox games are coming to more and more devices that you probably already own, it’s worth considering a few accessories that will make your game streaming experience as console-like as possible.

  • Xbox Wireless Controller ($59.99; microsoft.com): The top controller around, with support for Xbox consoles, computers and mobile devices.
  • OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip ($29.99; otterbox.com): A handy accessory for securely attaching your Xbox controller to your phone.
  • Razer Kishi (starting at $79.99; razer.com): An all-in-one solution that turns your phone into a mini Nintendo Switch.

For starters, you can’t go wrong with the latest Xbox Wireless Controller, which syncs to consoles, PCs, Macs and mobile devices (and hopefully in the future, TVs). We especially love the latest model that launched last fall, as it’s just a bit more compact and ergonomic than previous versions while introducing a handy Share button for screenshots.

Game Pass titles are starting to support touch controls on mobile, but it’s just not the same as using a controller. Fortunately, there are a few good options here. We’ve tested out the OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip, which makes it easy to clip your iPhone or Android phone to your Xbox controller. We like that it makes your phone feel secure without being too top-heavy, and that it doubles as a stand if you want to prop your phone on a table and use your controller wirelessly.

If you don’t have an Xbox controller handy or just want a more compact, Nintendo Switch-like experience, we’d recommend checking out the Razer Kishi. Available in iPhone and Android variations, this accessory adds gamepad-style controls to both ends of your phone, effectively turning your handset into a portable console.

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Don’t get us wrong — we love the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. They both run games extremely well (especially the Series X at 4K), deliver near-instant load times and make it easy to switch between multiple titles with Quick Resume. If you’re looking for the absolute best way to play games like Gears 5, Star Wars: Squadrons and Halo Infinite (save for buying an expensive PC), the latest Xbox consoles are well worth the cash if you can track them down.

But thanks to Microsoft’s recent moves, it’s becoming incredibly easy to save your cash and play Game Pass games using whatever device you already have. Sure, you won’t be getting the same level of fidelity or responsiveness as you would playing directly from a high-end console, but in our testing, streaming Game Pass to phones has been surprisingly smooth. We’re especially eager to try out Xbox game streaming on TVs later this year — if it works as planned, you’ll be able to play the latest Xbox games in all of their full-screen glory without having to splurge for a console.

Here’s the bottom line: If you’re interested in playing games like Halo, Gears, Forza, Minecraft and Destiny, all you really need at this point is an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. At $14.99 a month, it’s a much less daunting investment than dropping hundreds of dollars on a console. And if you’re new to Game Pass Ultimate, you can get three months of the service for $1. Yes, a single dollar for hundreds of titles.

The phone or laptop (and soon, the TV) you already have is enough to stream Xbox games, and you can always spring for a controller attachment if you want the most console-like experience possible. Finding the new consoles might still be a hassle, but if you’re into the Xbox side of things, you really don’t need to.

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