Windows Store Games Function, But Still Have Serious Problems

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I’ve been using Windows 10 for a while now but until Gears of War 4 came out I never considered investigating the games distributed through the Windows Store. There was a lot of early bad press when Rise of the Tomb Raider and Quantum Break came out that seemingly pushed Microsoft to make some improvements, but with Gears 4 out I’m hearing a lot of new unflattering talk of the platform that isn’t getting much press. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to get a $60, 80GB game through the Windows Store, if ever, so I tried out the free trial for ReCore and the free-to-play Forza 6 Apex just to see what Microsoft’s new system is like.

I know there are people who’ve had problems just getting Windows Store games installed and updated, but my experience just getting these two games up and running was smooth. Performance wasn’t out of the ordinary for these games either. I clicked the download button, they downloaded as quickly as could be expected on my internet connection, and they booted up.

At a surface level, this functionally feels like Origin or UPlay. Though those services were initially reviled — in 2013 my experience trying to install Splinter Cell Blacklist through the latter felt like I was installing a game in 2005 all over again, they’ve reached a point of being functional and inoffensive. I bought Mirror’s Edge Catalyst on sale on Origin a few weeks ago, it downloaded, and it ran without any issue. The same goes for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag through UPlay. It’s just that these services have absolutely no advantages over Steam other than the games they keep hostage. Origin has a few nifty unique features but nothing big. I guess Windows Store games being connected to the much bigger community of all your Xbox Live friends is a unique plus. These services have every right to compete with Steam, I just don’t think they’re really competing.

The real problems that persist with the Windows Store seem to be under the hood at this point. The initial problems that got a lot of press attention were easy-to-notice issues like the lack of exclusive full screen, the lack of multi-GPU rendering, and being forced into vsync. Possibly the biggest remaining problem is how Windows Store games update. Windows 10 actually makes a temporary full copy of a game while patching. That makes sense for a 40MB mobile app, but not for an 80GB game like Gears 4. It essentially means you need to keep 160GB of free space to install and keep updating the game.

Another big thing is that right now, you can’t play the games that have Xbox cross-compatibility like Gears or ReCore offline at all, not even in singleplayer. Maybe it’s not a big deal to everyone but it’s kind of a deal-breaker for me. My internet goes out often enough for it to be a problem. It even when out while I was trying to download ReCore. I say “right now” though because insider builds of Windows 10 suggest Microsoft is adding a feature for users to designate one PC as their “home” system which will have permission to play these games offline. Still worse than Steam though where you can simply play games in offline mode after installing them on any system.

And then of course you have the complete lack of any ability to do anything with the actual files of the games. That’s a big deal for the PC platform in general since modding is an important part of PC gaming, but it’s not an issue that’s going to stop the everyday user from playing the game they paid for.

Right now I imagine if you buy Gears 4 or ReCore from the Windows Store you’ll get a semblance of normal functionality if you don’t have any serious trouble installing either game. It’s just that as a platform it’s so far behind everything else out there. That’s doubly bad if you consider this is Microsoft’s second effort at a PC gaming store after Games For Windows Live.

The Windows Store just started letting people pause downloads and determine on which drive they’ll install games. Steam is about to let people use and fully customize their PlayStation 4 controllers and then other types of controllers. You’ll be able to have mostly any controller behave like a keyboard or an Xbox controller, meanwhile you might have to keep around an Xbox One controller solely for Windows Store games, which only recognize Xbox One controllers. That brings me to a tangential issue.

I also just bought one of those new Xbox One S controllers to replace the original controller I bought around a year ago. It had a stick drift issue that’s afflicted every Xbox One controller model, and Microsoft’s only solution for that is replacement. You can get a warranty for it… if you registered the controller along with an Xbox. If you just got the controller on its own you can try a self-repair but that’s it. GameStop doesn’t have protection plans for individual controllers but Best Buy does. On the plus side, before trying out ReCore I’d never experienced the Xbox One controller’s trigger rumble.

Overall, unless you’re totally plugged into Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform with multiple devices like a Surface and an Xbox, you don’t really get anything out of the whole deal. Even the non-gaming apps on the desktop in my experience are useless if you can get the same functionality in a web browser. The Windows Store’s Netflix app is clearly inferior to the Netflix web page and even probably the iOS app.

These apps make sense on tablets, touch screens, and controllers, but just like with the Windows 8 interface, once you’re on a desktop using a mouse and keyboard, it immediately becomes better to just use a web browser or traditional Windows application. If there was a way for me to manage all these apps, the whole Windows Store, and the entire Windows 10 UWP interface with just an Xbox controller or an Xbox media remote, then it would start to make sense from an accessibility standpoint. I already tried to make this point in April. Instead Microsoft wants to pretend Windows 10 HTPCs don’t exist, or is afraid they’d erode the Xbox’s value. Meanwhile Valve has been making Steam more and more workable on a TV with a controller.

In general, I feel like the best case scenario for Windows Store right now is that it becomes a service that doesn’t hurt anybody (other than modders), but for PC users has little reason to exist other than a few important games it won’t let go.

BULLETS:

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