My Xbox One Experience
The next generation of gaming is here! Some would argue, incorrectly, I might add, that it began last year with Nintendo’s release of their WiiU console. Most would agree, however, that the “Next Gen Race” has only two ponies and they’re named Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Sony’s Playstation 4 console released in North America on November 15th with Microsoft’s Xbox One released one week later in 13 territories. I’ve been an active gamer for all of console gaming’s eight generations, but it wasn’t until the last generation of gaming that I could justify purchasing more than one home console concurrently, and I did so by buying both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. I knew, going forward, that with both consoles releasing within days of each other this year, I would only be able to purchase one immediately. Based on my proclivity for social and multiplayer gaming within a secure online community, my choice for my next console seemed very clear; at its launch, I bought an Xbox One.
Day One: It arrives
November 22, 2005 – I waited out in the (literal) freezing temperatures outside of an Albany, NY Target for 6 hours in the hopes of purchasing one of the 30 Xbox 360s they had at launch. I was successful and while it was a fond memory, to be sure, allow me to paraphrase Lethal Weapon’s Det. Murtaugh, “I’m too old for this stuff!”. So, for November 22, 2013, I decided that getting my Day One edition of an Xbox One on day one was just as good as getting it at midnight. Again, my choice was easy; Amazon was getting my pre-order which meant I was going to be able to sit home and “relax” until the UPS man knocked on the door. That moment arrived right around noon with me attempting to feign a level of coolness about getting the new toy I had literally been waiting months to receive.
Some time earlier in the year, I made a decision: I had no desire to purchase physical media any more. As a Playstation Plus member, I’ve been able to appreciate having multiple “full-sized” games live directly on my console and have absolutely loved the ease with which switching from one game to another was accomplished. While it was Sony who introduced day and date digital releases to the console world, it was Microsoft who decided to adopt this policy for the Xbox One. Utilizing the Kinect 2.0’s voice recognition meant that switching from game to game, or game to app, or any machination therein, would become easier than it’s ever been. It also meant that I was gearing up for a day more full of downloads and installs than jubilations and explosions.
Taking it out of the box, I was surprised at how substantial the Xbox One is. It’s at least 30% larger than the Xbox 360 Slim and probably closer in size to the original Xbox. The Kinect 2.0 (which is included with every Xbox One) also looks more like a product and less like a prototype when compared to the original Kinect. It’s also slightly smaller than the original. The external power brick shares the Xbox One’s refined look but also the 360’s girth. Many are disappointed with Microsoft’s decision to not internalize the power supply to match the PS4, but I am not one of those people. I think the decision to keep the power, and all the heat it generates, as far away from the console as possible was a good one, especially considering how long Microsoft intends for you to have your Xbox One powered on (more on that in a bit).
Now to the thing gamers care about the most: the controller. It’s great! No really, it’s damn nice to hold in your hands. If you believe that the Xbox 360 was the best controller in gaming, then holding the Xbox One’s controller in your mits makes you fall in love all over again. The controller is roughly the same size as the 360’s but has more of a matte plastic finish as opposed to the glossy plastic finish, which improves grip. The battery is still 2 AAs, by default, but the casing for said battery is now flush with the back of the controller, which also improves grip. The analog sticks, while located similarly, are slightly smaller and more concave, meaning your thumb somewhat sits within the stick itself making it less likely to slip off and increases precision. The bumpers are raised, making it less likely to accidentally throw the ball away during intense Madden sessions, and the triggers are more convex but easier to push. Finally! The D-pad has arrived at X-BOX! No, it’s not as good as the one on the PS3, but it’s clicky and easily as good as the ones you find on the Wiimote. The Select and Start buttons are replaced by icon-based, contextual buttons meant to represent Options and Menu. The Guide button has been changed but (essentially) retains the same function as you’re accustomed.
Service, Don’t Fail Me Now
Owning both consoles allowed me to speak authoritatively on certain subjects; one of which was that the Xbox was the hands-down winner when it came to their online service as it pertains to downloads and patching. So, I was hopeful that my decision to go all digital on day one would only hurt a little. After a brief initial setup, I was prompted to start the mandatory 500MB day one patch, which took less than 5 minutes. So far, so good. But now how long would it take to download all of the applications and 4 retail games I had planned on getting? Well, I can pleasantly say that I was able to download, install, and start playing all of my games within 5 hours of receiving the console. Not only had Microsoft shown me I had nothing to fear with regards to their network, they exceeded my expectations when it came to the speed with which I can use my digital content.
One Box to Rule Them All
Microsoft’s ambition is that after your television, your Xbox One will be your most ubiquitous piece of entertainment hardware. Besides the now standard online streaming video options of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, et al., using the Xbox One’s HDMI passthrough, you can connect your cable box to the Xbox and watch cable TV through there as well. Setting up the Xbox to control the volume and power on both my TV and soundbar was a breeze. Additionally, my cable box, which uses RF signals instead of IR signals, was also very easy to configure to be controlled by my new $500 black box.
Say It, Don’t Spray It
The future is here! You want your Xbox to do something? Just tell it what to do! The Kinect 2.0 takes voice control and attempts to turn it up to 11. Anything that’s not gaming can be done using your voice. In fact, one could argue that Microsoft discourages you from using the controller by putting essential apps many layers deep within a menu structure. You can even turn the console on and off using only your voice. Pretty next gen indeed.
A typical day begins with me saying “Xbox On.”, the Xbox powers itself on, along with my tv and soundbar within 15 seconds. Most voice commands are intuitive enough and, once you learn the vernacular of the Xbox’s command structure, very easy to execute. I’ve found that voice commands work about 95% of the time and, if it doesn’t work the first time, voice commands work the second time. Whereas with the original Kinect I used the voice commands sparingly at best, I default to controlling my Xbox One using only the power of my voice with the met expectation that it will do what I want.
Rose Colored Glasses
Not all is perfect in the world of Microsoft’s everything box. Things we took for granted for the last 8 years and expected to be improved or at worst remain the same, in certain cases, have been made worse. Party chat works…most of the time. If you’re not in a specific game, *cough* Battlefield 4 *cough*, you can feel free accepting an invitation to your friend’s party. However, once a party starts you must remember to select the “Turn on party chat” option. Why isn’t turning on party chat the default? I’ve just gone through the trouble starting a party, why wouldn’t I immediately be able to speak to them?
Getting to the friends list is a bit of a chore and once you get there you realize it needs some tweaking. Available on your base level friends page is access to your profile, your number of friends (the capacity has thankfully increased to 1000), access to your twitter-like followers, as well as your messages, achievements, and your game DVR.
Members of a party chat are automatically invited to fellow members’ game instances but if you’re not in a party, inviting a friend to a game is frustratingly difficult. Achievements, settings, and just about any app is difficult to access via the controller. The Achievements interface is especially bad and much more obtrusive and obnoxious than it ever was previously. None of the issues are game stoppers but they are all head scratchers. I have no doubt that the issues of launch will have been addressed in some way within the coming months.
Wrap it up, B!
Three weeks with the Xbox One has really allowed me to understand what gaming will be like for the years to come. It looks pretty similar to how it did 4 weeks ago, except my Xbox IS the center of my entertainment hub. It’s the only thing I turn on when I enter my living room; it turns on all the other necessary components, and it stays on until I leave the living room for the evening. The games definitely look better, but only incrementally so when compared to last-gen’s “HD” leap. The gaming DVR and Xbox’s editing suite are currently being abused by me based on the ease with which I can create shareable gaming content, and playing the games on the system is as much fun as I thought it would be. It’s a fantastic console that is still a little rough around the edges but shows the promise of a true evolutionary step in console design and utilization.