Opinion: Xbox Series S: Impressions

As an admittedly lapsed Microsoft fanboy or, “EX-boxer” if you will (if the pun was too much I understand, have a nice day) I had little intention of investing in Xbox for the next generation. To my eyes, and many more, the Xbox One had largely become a victim of its own hubris. Microsoft missed the mark repeatedly and sometimes badly. However, since 2013, they have taken great strides in rebuilding their image.

Smart choices to course correct have now changed the gaming landscape - like adaptive controllers, the creation of Xbox Game studios to expand their portfolio, the enigmatic Phil Spencer and of course, Xbox Game Pass. In short, things are different - yet even after the Series X announcement I still hesitated. I am not the type to get stuck into the gritty details of console / PC specifications, I don’t care about 60 fps (may have just lost a few more of you) and only marginally care about 4k image quality.

I understand the importance of the improved technology new consoles provide. That the potential for developers to build and create more vivid, engrossing worlds is not dictated solely by the number of pixels on-screen. Despite all that however, I play games to escape. To explore and let imagination run wild and the best place to do that, in my experience, has been on PlayStation.

Price too is a factor, regardless of where in the world you are, $500 is a lot to ask of someone, so if anyone was going to take all of my money, it was surely going to be Sony’s PlayStation 5, right?

Enter the Little S That Could

The washed out look is not cleverly photoshopped, just a s****y camera phone...

When Microsoft, after months of rumors, leaks, and speculation, announced the Xbox Series S things changed yet again. Lower specs sure, but the promise of a shared library of games, from all generations of Xbox, on a superior-than-current-gen platform for a comparatively low price of $300 was a no brainer. Knowing every first party title (when they finally have some to speak of) will come day and date to their subscription service as well meant the impact of FOMO decreased dramatically.

The Series S was the perfect middle ground option for someone who wanted to go next-gen as soon as possible, without crippling themselves financially, just before the holidays no less. I was even lucky enough to secure one in the chaos of missed pre-orders, scalpers and the usual post-launch scarcity that surrounds new consoles.

So, in the three weeks since, there has been a re-awakening of sorts. The compulsive gamer that was once buried beneath the rubble of responsibility has broken free. And I stand before you now, bereft of sense, in a haze of gears, reclaimers and doom slayers of days gone by. The Series S that sits precariously atop my PlayStation 4 Pro has dominated my time and I want to share just how much my gaming habits have changed.

Loading? Never Heard of It

Again, bad phone

The custom SSD that both Sony and Microsoft have been touting really is no joke. Gaming just happens now, and you are rarely waiting any longer than 5 seconds to get playing on the S. Some may lament the days of watching the tooltips float by too fast before they finished reading them, requiring you to tap the d-pad to re-read it but then the game loads so you still don’t get to finish reading, but not this guy.

I would like to say I really put the console through its paces but, no, just automatically slotted into the same old behaviors as before. Have a scroll through the backlog, pick a game to load and have at it. It’s a happy rhythm learned over years of lazy practice. What changed was the pace at which I can do that now. With Xbox’s ‘Quick Resume’ feature you can pretty much pick up any game exactly where you left off, and it is as impressive as it is dangerous.

My attention span is already at an all time low, now that I’ve been hopping in and out of the likes of Halo, Gears, Star Wars and Battletoads willy-nilly like my tolerance for loading has gotten worse. As a test I tried booting up Marvel’s Avengers and Alien Isolation on my PS4 Pro and audibly groaned at the seconds more I had to wait. Whoops, is my privilege showing too much?

She’s Got it Where it Counts

The Series S is the weakest of the new consoles when it comes to performance, this is no secret. Without having the ability to compare with her big brother X or a PS5 however, I don’t know for certain how much I’m really missing out. But it doesn’t matter, The S has got it where it counts. Older games, especially of the enhanced for X/S titles, look slick as hell.

From Gears Tactics crisp visuals to Destiny 2’s (Pre 4K Patch) Europa looks stunning on my TV, noticeably more so than its PS4 counterpart. Couple that with the almost non-existent load times and it really drives home the next gen feeling I was hoping for. Everything feels fluid and while I’m fumbling through menus, as I understand it the Xbox UI is standard across all platforms now so it may be less of a surprise to you than someone coming back after a long period of being solely familiar with a PlayStation.

The biggest knock against the S really is in its storage. At a measly 364 GB of usable space it is hands down the biggest issue facing the console and potential consumer interest. The prospect of having to whittle down that infinitely expanding backlog at first feels daunting, no ones wants to be denied the choice but let’s face it, as gamers we are usually kidding ourselves with the constant rotation of new titles and “I remember this gem from X number of years ago, I’ll definitely play that again!”

So, What’s the Verdict?

The value that I have experienced in the three weeks the Xbox Series S has been in my home has been…. invaluable. It has shown me that console wars as we knew them are over. There is no more ‘Sega do what Nintendon’t’, Xbox vs PlayStation or the one killer app to end all killer apps in 2020. The lines between hardware and software are now blurred between premier services and memberships. What one system offers does not adversely affect the other, it is simply different and different is good.

If you are someone looking for a nice middle ground, that will keep you going for awhile until you can get around to purchasing the Series X or PS5, or you just don’t care too much about the bells and whistles of it all, the Series S will likely be a perfect fit. I love having such a reasonably priced little white box take over as my main entertainment system of choice.

Microsoft has smartly positioned this console as the accessible, family-friendly alternative to next-gen and with the holidays just around the corner I can easily see the Xbox Series S being the go-to Christmas present for parents and family members around the world.

First image taken from press kit here

Second and Third taken with the highest quality potato by yours truly

Fourth image taken from Destiny 2: Beyond Light press kit here

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