Xbox Cloud Gaming is supposed to be a big deal. The cloud is where Microsoft thinks the future of gaming lies, and the company has gone all-out to deploy servers powered by Xbox Series X hardware for this initiative.
Unfortunately, the promise of Cloud Gaming — the Xbox experience available anywhere — is a far cry from the reality we’re currently presented with. To put it bluntly, Xbox Cloud Gaming kind of stinks right now. And it’s hard to see how it catches on unless Microsoft puts serious effort into improving its one major deficiency.
It mostly comes down to latency.
Latency is the time it takes for your button presses or joystick maneuvers to result in action on the screen. On a home console, latency is very low and you see action almost instantly. On Google Stadia, there is a tinge of delay, but it still feels closer to home console play than anything else out there.
On Xbox Cloud Gaming, latency is well above an acceptable level. It makes playing games feel bad. It’s frustrating. In order to gauge how bad Xbox Cloud Gaming is, I played Destiny 2 on both it and Google Stadia back to back. I used a WiFi-connected MacBook Air and made sure to disconnect all other devices in my home.
With Stadia, I was able to partake in my usual activities, and I ever-so-briefly forgot my gameplay was being streamed to me. It’s fun to dunk on Stadia for all the broken promises and the likelihood Google will abandon it at some point in the future. But there is some seriously impressive stuff going on behind the scenes here.
With the Xbox alternative, it felt like joystick inputs were taking nearly half a second to register. That is someone killing you in the Crucible before your trigger command is received. That is a missed jump during a Raid. That is way, way, way too long.
You can imagine this latency (or lag as some call it) being a real pain in many other titles, such as Forza Horizon 4 or Celeste. Anything that requires quick action is going to result in a quick wreck or a quick death, because you’ll always be half a second behind what you’re seeing.
Until Microsoft addresses this issue, I really can’t recommend using Cloud Gaming at all. It’s nothing more than a neat proof-of-concept that shows off some cool tech, but isn’t remotely usable right now.