Unfortunately, 2020 became the year for the newest generation of gaming consoles, which coincided with a pandemic with threw the world into disarray. The new offerings from Microsoft and Sony are typically significant events on the gaming calendar, providing many, months of compounding hype and friendly (??) competition as companies pitch to fans their vision for what the coming years of gaming will be like. Without live events to drive fanfare through major conventions, the hype was much more subdued this time around. Therefore, I found myself walking into this new generation as if it were another day, albeit with a bigger hit to my wallet than usual. From the moment I unboxed Microsoft’s offering to this new generation of consoles – the Xbox Series X – I began looking for that wow factor that I missed in the leadup to its launch. Did it deliver? Keep reading to find out!
With a massive hardware boost of its predecessors, Microsoft’ contribution to the newest generation of gaming, the Xbox Series X, is at least on-paper the most powerful next-generation console on the market. With features such as support for up to 8K display resolutions, real-time ray tracing and a 1TB SSD built into the console, Microsoft has been able to introduce many industry-standards for new gaming PCs into the one reasonably affordable unit. A focus on the specs over attempting to revolutionise the console with a unique quirk, such as the Xbox One’s bundled Kinect, was in my book a smart decision. Despite the size of the unit itself, it can fit into most set-ups with minimal space and doesn’t require bulky peripherals or a bundle of cables to set up. Plus, it ensures the specs ensure the console has enough juice to hopefully power whatever development teams can throw at it for the next half-decade if not longer.
Microsoft’s ethos towards supporting a majority of the historical Xbox library continues to be admirable, especially given there is likely to be a minimal financial incentive to enabling users to use the hundreds of disc-based games they have accumulated since 2001. But unlike PlayStation or Nintendo consoles which have traditionally not been backwards compatible, requiring gamers to have 3-4 generations worth of units littered across their living room, being able to have one unit which supports a 20-year-strong library of games is very much welcome. Cause let’s be honest, sometimes you just have a craving to play Blinx: The Time Sweeper and don’t want to find all your cables.
When first loading up the Xbox Series X for the first time, you are guided into it via a smooth, easy-to-use New User experience which can be done with or without the accompanying phone app – I would highly recommend doing the former. It is a quick and pain-free experience, and you are more likely to spend time remembering your Xbox Account password or Wi-Fi Password than going through menu options. Day 1 updates are unfortunately but understandably, unavoidable.
Then you get to the primary user interface, and this is probably where the console let itself down the most to me. I was not a fan of the Xbox One user interface, finding it clunky at the best of times and by no means as seamless as either the PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch. The Xbox Series X’s user interface is very similar to that of its predecessor. Despite a few improvements which streamline everyday processes, makes it aesthetically nicer and removes much lag associated with the old one when going through the store and menus… it is just not as fun or idiot-proof to navigate as its competitors.
What it does is unify the user interfaces between the Windows 10 Operating System, Xbox Series X, Xbox One and the Mobile App. If you have enjoyed this in the past, you will probably like it more than I did. New consoles tend to be an opportunity for substantial shifts in design language – playing to previous strengths, removing weaknesses and being experimental with new concepts. However, booting up the Xbox Series X ultimately doesn’t differ much from an Xbox One.
Microsoft has taken a different approach to launch titles over previous generations, which provides it with tremendous strengths and also a few weaknesses. The main thing is that they have emphasised delivering cross-generational gaming experiences between the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. This means that buying an Xbox Series X on launch day provided players with no exclusive access to games build exclusively with this generation only in mind. On the flip side, this means that their consumer base who may not be ready to upgrade (either due to no stock, financial reasons or will to foot such an expense) to the next generation are not left out of the newest experiences.
In return, the Xbox Game Pass provides players with an extensive library of previous-generation games, in addition to a (now) additional EA Play membership and a range of Xbox Series X|S optimised games. The subscription service is a gem in Microsoft’s Xbox offerings, as if Xbox Series X|S is your first foray into console gaming, you have access to a diverse library of amazing games to download and play immediately. Furthermore, with their acquisition of development studios such as Bethesda Softworks, I see it as only a matter of time before Xbox gamers see some very promising exclusives come out, even if the launch pool of XSX exclusives is almost nothing.