One year ago, Google Stadia charged three ways to try its new cloud gaming service: you had to buy $130 worth of hardware, pay $10 a month for the service, and buy many of its games. But starting on November 19th — Stadia’s anniversary — Google will let you play Destiny 2 without paying a cent.
It might be the single-biggest test for Stadia yet.
Destiny 2 is already a free-to-play game on consoles and Windows PCs, so it’s not like Google is handing out free copies of a full-priced game. If you get invested, you’ll still need to buy the expansions yourself. You won’t be able to play with your friends on other platforms because Stadia’s copy of Destiny 2 doesn’t support cross-platform multiplayer. And if you’re not paying $10 a month for the Stadia Pro tier, you’ll be limited to “1080p” resolution, which didn’t compare favorably to the experience you’d get on an Xbox One, much less a gaming computer, in my initial review. (The Xbox One X experience looked better than Stadia’s “4K” mode.)
But look at the flip side: this is the first real way to see if Stadia actually works for you, without spending any money at all. Students can play it on their Chromebooks, in their web browser, or on an Android (not Apple) phone. Even if you’ve got a game console or PC, you can pick up and play your game in another room on a weak laptop without moving your hardware around.
Google tells us there aren’t any limitations on the length of your session when you’re playing Destiny 2 for free, as well, so it might be a tempting way for groups of cheapskate gamers to create their own new groups of friends who raid together. I used to be one of those.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now has been offering free-to-play games for months now, but you’re limited to one-hour sessions unless you pay monthly for a subscription. When Nvidia first announced the one-hour trials, though, it was a big deal that the company was footing the bill for you to try cloud gaming for free. Meanwhile, Google has had an unlimited free Stadia plan for months — so long as you buy the games — with only a few, very recent free demos to its name. Amazon’s Luna doesn’t offer a free-to-play option either.
I’m really curious what this test will reveal about how well Stadia works across the country and around the world.