2016 heralded a major turnaround for Microsoft and the way it handled PC gaming. After ignoring the platform for years, at least in a gaming sense, Microsoft announced its Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. Now, all first-party Xbox One exclusives would also be playable for all. Hurrah! A win for us all! Or was it…
You see, all of these games are, naturally, a way to encourage Windows users to upgrade to Windows 10 and/or engage with the Windows Store. The problems with this were twofold; firstly, the Windows Store sucked then, and it sucks now; secondly, not many people trusted Microsoft with their 60 bucks after the disaster that was Games For Windows Live. GFWL was hardly enough to inspire confidence, particularly with these digital purchases which could just be lost on a whim if Microsoft decided it had enough of its little experiment with PC gaming.
My main gripe with the Windows 10 Store and its games is that there are precious few fallback options aside from re-downloading a game again and again in the hope that it works. If I grab a game from Steam and something isn’t quite right, for example, it requires compatibility with an older OS, or it needs a config tweak to support my desired resolution, then it’s a relatively simple process to get it working. Anything more complicated than that and someone, somewhere out there in the community, has usually got a fix or a workaround for it. Tampering with Windows Store games meanwhile is next to impossible It either runs or it doesn’t, and there’s really any clear avenue to implement your own fixes. Microsoft has got the whole thing locked up so tight with its UWP apps that actually ends up being a detriment.
This is just the tip of the Windows Store iceberg, and there are dozens more issues lurking beneath the surface. One in particular that grates is Microsoft’s insistence that it cares about PC gamers while running Xbox One-only discounts for games that are part of its Xbox Play Anywhere service. What the heck is the point of that? If Forza Horizon 3 is 50% off on Xbox One for Xbox Live subscribers, it should be 50% off on PC too. The store itself is cluttered with mobile F2P trash, it’s got a terrible library system, and the player bases in games which aren’t cross-platform are tiny. When the likes of Quantum Break and Halo Wars have already since launched on Steam, you can pretty much tell the games in this store are performing below Microsoft’s expectations.
Keeping a positive spin on this scenario is easy though. Here we are, in 2017, with the best version of Xbox One games that would previously have been exclusive. We can play Gears of War 4 or Forza Motorsport 7 in 4K. Meanwhile, Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and, inevitably, Halo 6 are right around the corner. This is genuine PC support from Microsoft, even if it’s approached like it’s an afterthought from Microsoft. We’re getting all the best games from the Xbox One, yet we’re receiving them through a service that even the most die-hard Windows fan would admit is lacklustre.
We’re not just being thrown cast-offs either. Age of Empires IV is a game that PC fans have been crying out for, for years. We’re assuming it’s going to be designed for mouse and keyboard play, and if it is then this is comfortably the biggest PC-focused game published by Microsoft in years. For the love of god don’t tailor it to gamepad play like Halo Wars though, Relic.
OK rant over, but you can see I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, Microsoft’s releasing more games on PC than it has in a long, long time, yet on the other, it feels as if we’re being given prime steak served in a dog bowl.