What is Vortex Cloud Gaming?
Vortex is “a group of people passionate about computer games,” which is a familiar statement if you’ve ever browsed cloud gaming services. When it comes to the best cloud gaming services, being ranked at the top is difficult, especially since this technology is still in it infancy. In this Vortex review, we’re going to see if it makes the cut.
The short answer is “kind of.” Vortex is inexpensive and, because of that, accessible. It’s a great way to get introduced to cloud gaming and the shortcomings that currently accompany it, but it isn’t encompassing of what cloud gaming is capable of. Half-baked design on the desktop-end of things leads to a clunky experience, as does the limited game library.
Even so, for the price, it’s hard to fault Vortex. It offers a lot of value for your money with little commitment. Although you won’t be able to play your entire Steam library, you should be able to play most of it across your desktop and mobile devices.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Browser support
- Android support
- Large game library
- Custom Android controls
- 15 data centers
- Lackluster performance
- Limited desktop application
- Limited refund policy
- Trouble with DRM-free games
Vortex is fairly barren in terms of features, focusing rather on providing the core cloud gaming experience. In the FAQ section of the website, Vortex says it will introduce VIP account with “a lot of new premium features” in the “near future.” For now, though, there’s only one plan.
That plan supports Windows, macOS and Android. However, you can use any platform that has access to Google Chrome (read our Google Chrome review). That said, we tested other Chromium-based browsers, such as Opera, and those worked fine, too (read our Chromium review and Opera review).
Most of the features come courtesy of the Android application. You can use a controller with your Android device, and we recommend that you do, but Vortex has you covered in case you don’t have one. There are on-screen controls in the Android application. Although not a new concept, Vortex allows you to remap them.
You can add as many elements as you want to the screen and drag them anywhere you see fit. Vortex will provide a default layout for every game, some of which are simpler than others, but you can customize it until the control scheme is comfortable.
Furthermore, you can add buttons for a keyboard and mouse or for an Xbox gamepad. That includes adding dedicated buttons for certain mouse clicks, entire circles for particular keys and advanced thumbstick movement. If you start customizing and happen to break something, you can always return to the default controller layout without interrupting your session.
In addition to customizing the on-screen controller, you can also customize how your touch screen interacts with the game. That includes swiping for movement acceleration, the DPI at which the cursor moves and which key triggers when you tap and double tap.
These features are welcome on the Android application, but it seems Vortex favored adding them there over the desktop application. As we’ll get into in the “ease of use” section below, the desktop and browser-based versions of Vortex feel barren in terms of customizability, which is a shame, considering the Android application is so flexible.
Vortex Cloud Gaming Features Overview
|Coverage||15 data centers in 9 regions.|
|Supported DRM platforms||Steam, Origin, Epic Games Store, Battle.net|
Unlike Shadow (read our Shadow review), Vortex doesn’t work across DRM platforms like Steam, Origin and Battle.net. Instead, there’s a library of games that you can play using the platform. Those games still require a license, no matter who manages that license, but your full Steam library isn’t available.
That said, the greatest hits are available. Vortex supports new titles like the Resident Evil 2 remake, Risk of Rain 2 and Cuphead, with new games added to the list each week. Although the library is extensive, it’s mostly focused on major releases, with many popular indie titles falling by the wayside.
Some newer indie hits, such as Celeste, are understandably absent, but classic titles like Super Meat Boy, Darkest Dungeon and Terraria are missing. These games don’t require a lot of hardware to run, so you can probably get by with a modest rig.
However, with support for Android, it would nice to have some of the best indie titles on the go.
Although most games require a license to run, Vortex includes some free games, too. Normal free-to-play titles, such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are, of course, included, but you have access to other games, too. Of note, Vortex Cloud Gaming gives you access to Guild Wars 2, Bendy and the Ink Machine and Batman: The Telltale Series.
We would prefer if Vortex worked across DRM platforms, but the library it offers is extensive. If you’re more concerned about running the latest releases than you are with playing old indie favorites, the library is fine.
Vortex has some issues — we’ll get into them in the following sections — but they’re easy to overlook, considering the price. There aren’t multiple plans or durations to choose from.
How much does Vortex cloud gaming cost?
Vortex is straightforward in its rates: you pay $9.99 per month for as many months as you want the service.
The no-nonsense nature is appealing, as is the low price. However, Vortex doesn’t exactly make it clear what you’re buying. It simply says that you’re purchasing a computer with “Nvidia graphics,” which doesn’t say much about how well the machine will perform (check Nvidia’s own cloud gaming service in our GeForce Now review).
The FAQ section of the website says it’ll launch a VIP program with more features at some point, presumably with a higher price, but for now, there’s only the base plan.
For the money, you’re not actually buying any games, just the service itself. Compared to PlayStation Now, which costs less than $10 per month if you purchase a year upfront, that’s disappointing. PS Now comes with more than 800 games to play, 300 of which are PS4 titles, as you can read in our PlayStation Now review.
The upside is that you can cancel anytime with Vortex. You’re charged the $10 per month every month until you decide otherwise, which is a nice change of pace. Most cloud gaming services try to rope users in with hopes of streaming any game on their mobile devices, forcing users into a year-long subscription. With Vortex, you only pay for as long as you want it.
As for paying, you can use PayPal, a credit card or a bank transfer if you sign up through the website. If you’re buying on the app, you can use Google Pay or, for Windows, the Windows 10 in-app purchase option.
That said, once you pay, that money is gone. Technically, Vortex offers a refund period, but it’s difficult to call it that. If you’ve played for less than 15 minutes, you can request a refund. If you go beyond that, though, you’re out of luck.
Ease of Use
Signing up with Vortex is a breeze. Multiple points on the website ask you to log in, and clicking on any of them will bring you to a login/sign-up page. There, all you need to do is enter your email, set a password and choose if you want to sign up for the mailing list.
After that, you can actually purchase a subscription. As mentioned above, Vortex only offers a monthly plan, meaning you don’t have to choose between multiple tiers before checking out. Simply enter your payment information, your billing details and click “pay now.” Once that’s done, you’ll be greeted with a payment-accepted screen with a button to “play now.”
From there, you’ll be redirected to the browser-based version of the application, which shows the game library. As mentioned, you’ll need a license to play most games on the platform. Thankfully, though, that isn’t restricted to a specific DRM, or at least that’s what Vortex claims.
Every time you load a game, you’ll be required to log in to Steam, which gets very annoying, especially if you have two-factor authentication enabled (read our what is two-factor authentication guide). There are some exceptions — Apex Legends asks you to log in to Origin, for example — but, for the most part, you’re using Steam.
That can pose a few issues. For instance, we have a license for The Witcher 3 purchased from GOG. When launching the game, Vortex said that we’ll need a license, and even mentioned GOG as an option. However, after logging in, the game wouldn’t load. We didn’t receive an error screen or any explanation, just simply a black page.
Suffice it to say, if you want to play a game with Vortex, you’ll need to own that game specifically on Steam, despite the fact that Vortex claims otherwise.
Launching a game is a fairly painless process, though you’ll have to contend with long load times. After choosing the title you want, no matter if it’s from the local application or from the browser UI, you’ll be asked to log in to either Steam or the DRM platform the game is exclusive on. Then, you’ll just wait for the game to launch.
It can take a few minutes, but loading isn’t too bad. The only exception is the desktop application, which, as we’ll talk about in the next section, is unusable.
Otherwise, games can be favorited for easier organization, and Vortex shows all of the details of each title it supports, including the supported controller inputs, the categories the game fits in and the rating.
The only annoyance is when you end a session. Vortex will ask you to rate your experience and provide feedback. You can easily close out of this window, but there isn’t an option to disable further pop-ups.
When launching a game with Vortex, you’re essentially logging into a virtual machine, meaning everything you do on the machine is exclusive to it. For instance, you can’t transition your mouse outside of the game window without first breaking from that session.
To combat that issue, Vortex has a number of shortcuts you can use. For example, when using the browser, you can use “ALT” plus the left arrow key to close your session. However, none of these keyboard shortcuts are explained. You’ll occasionally see a pop-up telling you what to do, but we couldn’t find the conditions under which the pop-up appeared.
That’s only on the browser version, though. On Android, Vortex shows you all the shortcuts, and even goes as far as to allow you to remap keys on the virtual controller.
It’s clear from our “ease of use” and “performance” sections that Vortex is dedicated to the Android application. Although that’s great for mobile gamers, those looking for a more traditional experience with a keyboard and mouse will have to slog through learning the shortcuts.
The lack of thought to how the application controls on a computer shows through in other ways, too. For example, pressing the escape key will break your mouse sync, allowing you to use your mouse on your local session. However, nearly all PC games use the escape key to pause the game.
In some cases, you can work around this issue. For example, when going back through menus in DOOM, we could use the back switch in the UI.
However, in others, the lack of functionality for the escape key meant parts of the game were unreachable without remapping. This is a huge oversight, and it makes the already clunky experience of cloud gaming feel even more cumbersome.
According to Vortex, the ping we tested with was “good,” which, by Vortex’s standards, means it will deliver the best quality possible. To put some numbers down, we tested our internet speed with speedtest.net, scoring a 9-millisecond ping, a download rate of 54.6 Mbps and an upload rate of 10.45 Mbps.
Although not the fastest speed, it’s far above what Vortex recommends. It says that you should have at least a 10-Mbps internet connection using LAN without any other applications running. We abided by those standards during our testing.
We tried testing as many platforms as possible, but that posed a few issues. Using the application on Windows 10, we couldn’t even get a game to start. We tried numerous times, each trial requiring another verification on Steam. However, after entering our credentials, the virtual machine would slow to a crawl.
Keystrokes would take up to 15 seconds to register, and games took between five and 10 minutes to load. Everything was beyond sluggish; it was unusable. The local application is a joke compared to the browser version, which, despite its issues, loaded games in quickly.
The browser version was much better. We tested a number of games, including DOOM 2016, Borderlands 2 and Cuphead. Our resolution was locked to just over 720p in all of those titles, which is telling. It seems Vortex is favoring frame rate over resolution, which, in some cases, is fine. However, if you have a high-resolution display, games get muddy really fast.
Resolution isn’t the issue, though: input lag is. The games we tested all require some amount of precision, and in that context, Vortex falls apart. Mouse movement has a strange sliding effect like a poorly programmed platformer, and keystrokes take a noticeable amount of time to register.
Games are still playable, but not in an ideal form. Your best bet for games that require any amount of precision is to lower the difficulty.
Shockingly, the best experience came from the Android application. As mentioned above, the Android app feels the most fully featured, and it seems that all of Vortex’s performance optimization has been focused there, too. Precision-focused games still have a decent amount of input lag, but not nearly as much as playing in a browser.
Vortex is one of the few cloud gaming services to start its service internationally. Instead of focusing on one region, Vortex has servers around the globe, including data centers in the U.S., Europe, Central America and Southern Asia. That said, there aren’t too many servers in total, meaning you might have to travel a reasonable distance to play your games.
In total, there are 15 data centers, five of which are in Europe, with another four in the U.S. Canada gets one, though, Canadian users could also take advantage of the Eastern U.S. center. Central America gets another and South America gets one more. There’s also a data center located near Indonesia.
Those who’ve been following might notice that that only adds up to 13 data centers. Vortex claims there are 15, but the map it provides for reference only shows 13 points. As for the other two data centers, there’s no saying where they’re located.
Vortex isn’t a bad cloud gaming service, especially at the asking price. However, with how limited this technology is, cutting any corners proves to be too much, and Vortex is a showcase of that. Platformers, shooters and even some RPGs are unplayable with the amount of input lag. Although Vortex lives up to its claim of 60fps gaming, it does so at the cost of latency.
That said, games that don’t need split-second precision play well, and with how cheap Vortex is, that’s worth the price of admission alone. Combined with the excellent Android support, Vortex doesn’t look too bad.
What do you think of Vortex? Do you plan on trying it out? Let us know about your experience in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.