We’ve never seen a killer app for cloud gaming yet — but Starfield might be the next best thing. It has now arrived on Nvidia’s GeForce Now, the first cloud gaming service that might do it justice, and the only one with a completely free trial, no credit card required.
Both the Steam and Microsoft Store versions of Starfield are live right now. That means Xbox Game Pass subscribers don’t need to purchase a copy, and even if you’ve already started the game, your savegames should come along for the ride.
Why is Starfield such a big deal for cloud gaming? On PCs, the game is notoriously hard on both CPUs and GPUs and requires an SSD to play. It controversially didn’t launch with Nvidia’s frame rate-enhancing DLSS tech to ease the load, either. It’s the kind of game that single-handedly drives PC upgrades — or maybe, just maybe, drives players to the cloud so they can stream to TV, PC, and phone.
That may already be happening: when I tried booting it up on Microsoft’s xCloud this past weekend, I was greeted with 15-minute wait times, something I haven’t seen since the earliest betas of the service.
I also experienced slightly muddy graphics and considerable lag via Microsoft’s xCloud — things that Nvidia’s pricey GeForce Now RTX 4080 subscription cloud servers are typically good at handling.
As I’ve explained before, only Nvidia’s top-tier “Ultimate” GeForce Now service really gives you a taste of what cloud gaming is truly capable of in 2023 — there’s a free tier, too, but it’s limited in latency, resolution, and image quality. To take full advantage, you’ll be paying $20 a month, or $100 for six months, on top of the price of the game. (Xbox Game Pass Ultimate includes new first-party Xbox games for $17 a month, but Nvidia’s GeForce Now is about letting you play select games you already own from PC game libraries like Steam.)
Starfield is also the first big test for Nvidia’s 10-year deal with Microsoft that gives it the right to stream Xbox games via GeForce Now. Microsoft owns Starfield developer Bethesda, and Nvidia promised it would use the deal to “release new titles day-and-date or as close to day-and-date as we can with the PC release of the games,” GeForce Now boss Phil Eisler told me this past February.
Assuming Starfield runs great on GeForce Now — we’ll see! — a one-week delay isn’t all that bad.
There have been a couple other games over the years that could have been proof points for cloud gaming: Cyberpunk 2077 worked comparatively well on Google Stadia and arrived there at launch, though the game was buggy and unfinished no matter which platform you played on. Destiny 2 was a huge cloud gaming test, too, particularly once it went free-to-play, but unfortunately, Stadia shipped a graphically compromised D2 experience that looked worse than it did on contemporary consoles, let alone PC.
It’s not clear why Nvidia didn’t launch Starfield on GeForce Now on the same day as its PC and console release, but the game did run “bizarrely worse” on Nvidia and Intel cards at launch. Nvidia has already issued one framerate-boosting patch, and Bethesda is now promising to add DLSS support at some point in the future.