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Nvidia GeForce Now Review: Gaming Anywhere That Makes Sense

It can get pricey, but the GeForce Now cloud gaming service is worth it if you're serious about play time across all your devices.

GeForce Now screenshot with Evil Dead in top promotional spot and thumbnails below for My Library and GeForce Now Thursday releases
Nvidia's good about supporting as many new, hot games as possible, and releases support for a handful of older games every Thursday.
Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Nvidia's GeForce Now cloud gaming service has been constantly evolving since I first reviewed it in October 2021 and even more since I first laid hands on it in November 2020, and that development in a still-growing category like cloud gaming is more important to me than all the splashy launch partnerships and big ambitions. Because of its smart set of plan options, solid performance and big and growing list of supported games, along with Nvidia's aggressive strategy for its data center and GPU businesses -- the bedrock on which GeForce Now is built -- I'm giving it an Editors' Choice Award and put it on our list of best cloud-gaming services for gamers who've amassed large game libraries and want to play them in more places or who don't want to be beholden to a capricious rotation of available games.

Though it now supports 4K/60fps, the option for 1440p/120 frames per second is part of what's smart. Though 4K sounds better, 1440p at 120fps plays better when you're gaming over a network, making it a really good compromise when 1080p doesn't work for you. It's good for the wider audience of gamers and recent laptop buyers, for whom screens with 2,560x1,440- or 1,600-pixel resolutions and fast refresh are overtaking FHD (1080p). And while sim games may benefit from higher resolutions more than from faster screen rendering, the bulk of games need 120fps more than they need 4K.

I still think it's an iffy decision to buy a game that you'll only be able to play via GeForce Now. But if you already own games you want to use with GeForce Now, on the other hand, there's little downside and a lot of upside. That's also true if you're only planning to play free games such as Fortnite or DOTA 2.

Nvidia GeForce Now

Like

  • Broad selection of supported devices
  • Excellent performance in RTX 3080 tier
  • 1440p at 120Hz and 4K/60Hz options with adaptive sync
  • Bring-your-own games model
  • Frequent additions to its supported games catalog
  • Constantly evolving

Don't Like

  • Network issues aren't as bad as with some competitors, but they still pop up
  • Can be confusing to figure out what to expect for your particular device(s)
  • Can get expensive

GeForce Now differs from the competition in that it lets you play games you've already paid for rather than requiring you buy a special version of the game (like Google Stadia or Amazon Luna) or stream games from a circumscribed subscription library (like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or the forthcoming Sony PlayStation Plus Premium). 

It's more akin to virtual machine services like Shadow; they provide you with an entire, persistent Windows system in the cloud that you can access via phone as well as other devices, which means you can essentially play any existing Windows game. That's a more expensive approach, though it offers one perk the others don't: It's a full-fledged system with persistent local storage. 

You can link Ubisoft, Epic and Steam accounts within the app so you don't have to sign in to those every time you launch the game. But because GeForce Now uses temporary virtual machines, anything that would normally be saved to your local storage either needs to be synced with the cloud by the game store or publisher or it's blowin' in the wind.

How GeForce Now works

To use it, you boot up the appropriate app for Android (including phones and TVs), Windows or Mac OS, or go to the website on a Chromebook, iPhone or iPad. Microsoft Edge support, which lets it work on an Xbox, is currently in beta. There are also about 117 supported free-to-play games. 

A list of platforms supported by GeForce Now as of May 25.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

You find a supported game that's in one of your game libraries -- primarily on Steam and Epic Games Store, but also GOG as well as launchers for Ubisoft Connect and Origin-- and commence play. The app connects to the closest data center, which hosts the engine to render the games and stream them to you. Gameplay syncing and account management are handled by the respective game launchers, not Nvidia.

Depending upon your plan, there may be a bit of a wait, beyond the typical matchmaking delay. And there are still some big publisher holes, such as Electronic Arts (and its franchise formerly known as "FIFA"), Activision/Blizzard (Call of Duty, Overwatch), Bandai Namco (Elden Ring) and Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto).

GeForce Now screen on the iPhone 13 Pro showing thumbnails for three of the free-to-play games, Apex Legends, Fortnite and Rocket League

Nvidia (and Microsoft) brought Fortnite gameplay back to Apple's mobile devices. Since it's via Safari, Apple's App Store ban against Fortnite doesn't apply.

Lori Grunin/CNET

You might ask why it requires specific support in order to play your own games via GeForce Now. There are a lot of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to two: optimization and licensing. 

A game frequently needs to be streamlined for efficient streamed play, and for high-profile games both Nvidia and the publisher have an incentive to make sure you have the best experience possible. That might require enabling adaptive sync, turning on ray tracing and finding ways to decrease latency. 

And even though you "own" your games, both Nvidia and the publisher frequently have to work out appropriate licensing not just for the game, but for all assets subject to third-party rights, notably music. That's also why a game might leave the service (or any service, for that matter). I haven't tracked games which have left the service in a while, but I don't think there are a lot, and certainly fewer than a vault like Xbox Game Pass where games leave on a monthly basis.

A major departure that is happening on July 1, 2022, is God of War (on Epic or Steam). But in an interesting licensing twist, if you start the game before then, you retain the right to play it on GeForce Now. It's a feature of the service, though it won't apply for every game. 

In the case of God of War, Nvidia explained: "Members who have started playing a game at least once on GeForce NOW [can] continue playing it, even after the game has been removed for users who have not played it." GeForce Now's lack of a plan-determined game vault makes that sort of granular availability license possible, or at least easier to set up.

Plan choices

With the Free plan you can play any game you own or any of the free-to-play games for free, but it's limited to a single-hour session and you're at the bottom of the list for getting onto the server. Still, seeing GeForce Now at its worst is a good way to figure out if the service is for you.

The Priority plan is probably the best option for most people, providing a similar experience to what you might get from an entry-to- midrange gaming laptop. Since it includes 6-hour sessions and better access to the faster servers as well as support for ray tracing, if you only want to use GeForce Now on a phone for noncompetitive play, Priority is all you need. And it works out to a reasonable $8.33 to $10 per month, depending on your renewal frequency.

If you need better response time and either higher frame rates or resolution or both, Nvidia's RTX 3080 plan makes more sense if your budget is up to it, with front-of-the-line access to the best servers, an 8-hour session length and up to 4K/60fps or 1440p/120fps resolution and frame rates. In a lot of cases Nvidia uses upscaling to achieve the better frame rates and resolutions, but at this point the network still has a more degrading influence over quality than anything going on on the back end. If you have a GeForce GTX 10-series or later GPU, it can take advantage of better DLSS upscaling (it requires special decoding on your end, hence the GeForce GPU).

GeForce Now plans


Free Priority RTX 3080
Price Free $50 for 6 months or $10 a month $100 for 6 months or $20 per month
Max quality (up to) 1080p/60fps 1080p/60fps, RTX ray-tracing acceleration 1440p/120fps and 4K/60fps on PC and Mac (1600p on MacBooks; 4K/60fps with HDR and 7.1 surround audio on Nvidia Shield, 120fps on select Android devices; RTX ray tracing acceleration
Session length 1 hour 6 hours 8 hours
Access type Standard access to basic servers Priority access to premium servers Exclusive access to top servers

RTX 3080 works out to a minimum of $16.67 a month, which is a lot more expensive than Amazon Luna or Google Stadia Pro, both $10 a month, or even Microsoft's $15-per-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (including its Game Pass Cloud Gaming), all of which include games. For $20, you can try it out for a month to see if it's worth it. 

On the other hand, GFN doesn't have any a la carte subscription charges, like Luna's and Stadia's for Ubisoft Plus. Then again, you don't have access to Ubisoft Plus with GFN.

Playing at 1440p and 120Hz has higher minimum requirements than the lower tiers, unsurprisingly. Nvidia recommends at least 35Mbps bandwidth; for 4K gaming it recommends 40Mbps. (Here's a full list of system requirements.) Keep in mind that bandwidth is only one of the variables that can affect your experience, and Nvidia doesn't specify any maximum packet loss or ping or maximum jitter specs.

When you run the in-app network test on mobile, it specifies less than 2% packet loss (less than 1% recommended), less than 80ms jitter (less than 40ms recommended) and less than 80ms ping (less than 40ms recommended). 

GeForce Now network test results for a phone saying Excellent network at the top

GeForce Now's network test results for a phone showing what it considers excellent network performance.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Even meeting those doesn't guarantee a perfect experience, since network conditions change from millisecond to millisecond, and many times I've started with perfect stats only to have them worsen significantly midgame. That's not unique to GFN, though. The pricier the plan the more power Nvidia throws behind mitigating whatever network issues it can.

Like competitors, Nvidia recommends a wired connection for best performance. But I think needing to recommend Ethernet for cloud gaming on anything other than a stationary living-room console or device like the Shield is a strike against all these services, since it's inconvenient or impossible for most players. My router is in the living room but far from anyplace to game comfortably without running a cable across the room (a hospital visit waiting to happen).

Nvidia novelties

All GFN gamers, regardless of plan, benefit from Nvidia's adaptive sync support, which uses server-side G-Sync to match frames arriving at your screen with the rate at which your screen updates to reduce display artifacts. Traditional adaptive sync requires frequent communication between the GPU and monitor in order to dynamically match gameplay frame rates with the speed at which your monitor can update. For services or plans locked to 60fps, adaptive refresh isn't as necessary as for the variable refresh tiers, though.

Nvidia also uses its Reflex Latency Analyzer technology for the RTX 3080 tier, which the company says can reduce latency to 60ms or less for a chunk of gamers who subscribe to that plan and have 144Hz monitors. 

The company also makes use of some of this back-end technology for its Highlights, brief game clip recordings that you can share. (The Highlights feature requires game-level support, though, and only a fraction of the games work with it, even though it launched in September 2021.) It also supports Discord Rich Presence for in-game status and invites.

Cloud gaming hasn't yet reached the point where any service can sit back and relax. Many of the device issues have been worked out, but they still have to deal with game support strategy and network latency. Nvidia's GeForce Now has the best combination of performance, game support and value we've seen thus far.