Xbox Series X|S
To celebrate the Xbox Series X|S’s birthday, let’s go over the biggest Xbox surprises from the previous year.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S consoles turned a year old on November 10. Within that year, Xbox released a few first-party console games (like Psychonauts 2 and Forza Horizon 5), and its new consoles saw several well-received third-party console exclusives as well, such as The Big Con and The Artful Escape.
Rather than deliver a traditional “the year that was” retrospective, we’re instead going to cover the features, services, and games that most surprised us in the first year of the Xbox Series X|S’s lifecycle. From a love for Smart Delivery to a welcome reprieve from scrolling through social media, here’s all the biggest surprises from the first year of the Xbox Series X|S. When you’re done reading, be sure to check out our corresponding list of what most surprised us about the PS5 in its first year.
Smart Delivery is essential
Xbox threw around a lot of buzzwords ahead of the launch of the Xbox Series X|S. Chief among them was “Smart Delivery,” which Xbox used as a catch-all term to describe how cross-generation games would work on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. Basically, if a game released for both consoles, you only needed to buy it once–the Xbox One would know to play the past-generation version of the game and the Xbox Series X|S would know to play the current-generation version. It was all automatic.
Going into the new generation, I didn’t think much of it, but now with a year of the current console generation under our belts, I’ve come to realize that Smart Delivery is crucial. PlayStation did not implement a similar feature on PS5 at launch, and the contrast in how the two consoles handled cross-generation third-party games was immediately apparent. While folks were easily playing the ideal versions of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on Xbox Series X|S, the same could not be said for those playing the same games on PS5.
PlayStation’s new console did not make it abundantly clear which version of a game you were choosing to download and play, occasionally resulting in players accidentally putting the PS4 version of a game on their PS5. This, in turn, forced people to manually uninstall and download the right version of certain games. The issue has since been rectified, but there weren’t any such issues on Xbox Series X|S (though its second year isn’t off to a great start with Battlefield 2042 breaking this trend).
On top of ensuring that players downloaded the right version of certain games, Smart Delivery made save transfers automatic as well. You had to manually implement a data transfer on PS5 to get your PS4 saves. Meanwhile, on Xbox Series X|S, Smart Delivery ensured that all your save data was waiting for you on your new console–it made switching from Xbox One to Xbox Series X|S into a seamless process, which was very helpful when I was reviewing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and moving from past- to current-generation hardware. I just plugged in the Series X and kept playing. To this day, I’m still surprised that I’ve come to appreciate Smart Delivery as much as I do, considering I thought the term was stupid leading up the launch of Xbox Series X|S.
Way less social media doomscrolling
Being told that the Xbox Series X|S is going to cut down on load times is one thing, but experiencing it firsthand is quite another. The Xbox Series X|S loads games incredibly fast, cutting load times down to a second or two. I’ve been so spoiled by how quickly other games load on Xbox Series X|S that Forza Horizon 5, which takes a good three to four seconds to load, now feels frustratingly long.
When I first experienced Xbox Series X|S’s faster load times, I made a joke in GameSpot’s Slack that it was going to put writers who are in charge of putting together tips for loading screens out of work. But the far more surprising outcome to all of this is that I spend far less time looking at social media and scrolling through post after post while waiting for my games to load. The next scene is already happening before I can even get my phone out of my pocket. With less time being spent doomscrolling Twitter this past year, I’ve felt like a more mentally healthy person. That’s certainly something I was not expecting to happen with the Xbox Series X|S.
Quick Resume is cool but not a huge deal
Unlike Smart Delivery, I thought Quick Resume was a really cool idea ahead of the launch of the Xbox Series X|S. And that’s turned out to be the case–being able to effortlessly switch between several games feels like magic. But to my surprise, Quick Resume isn’t as big of a deal for me as I figured it would be.
Though I do use Quick Resume on and off–usually to switch from whatever single-player game I’m currently playing to one of my go-to online multiplayer games like Rocket League or Forza Horizon 5–I don’t rely on it regularly. The Xbox Series X|S boots up games so fast, it doesn’t really matter if I close them out completely each time I’m done with them and then reopen them when I want to play them. Plus, the Xbox Series X|S just downloads updates and uploads game clips faster when it’s also not keeping a bunch of games running in the background. So despite how cool Quick Resume is, it’s surprisingly not a huge deal.
I feel like I’d use Quick Resume a lot more if it was just implemented better. The problem largely comes from online multiplayer games like Destiny 2 and Apex Legends, which need to dish out server space accordingly, logging players offline if they remain idle. With the time spent acknowledging that I’ve been logged out and then logging back in, Quick Resume isn’t shaving much time off my routine–it’s practically just as fast to close the game when I’m done and then open and log back in when I want to play again. Also, Xbox isn’t super forthcoming with its messaging on which games support Quick Resume. With so many games not supporting it, it just doesn’t seem worth trying to remember what does.
1TB is actually a lot of space
I was convinced, just so 100% convinced, that the Xbox Series X’s 1TB storage wasn’t going to be enough space, let alone the Series S’s 500GB (especially considering you can’t actually use 100% of either system’s total capacity). I would have bet money on it. And to be fair, Call of Duty: Warzone probably spooked me more than it should have–with how massive the recent CoD games have been, I figured they were an indication that games were about to become much larger. But no, there haven’t been many super large 100GB+ games on Xbox Series X|S in its first year, so getting a whole TB with the Series X is actually plenty of storage space. A huge part of that is largely a result of the Xbox Series X|S’s SSD drive and the improved speeds it offers, helping developers squeeze more into less–heck, even the most recent CoD, Call of Duty: Vanguard, is way smaller than Warzone.
I’m not mad at the UI
Ahead of the console launch, I was one of those folks who openly groaned about the Xbox Series X|S featuring the same UI as its predecessor. Unlike the PS5, which was getting a fancy new collection of menus and UI elements, the Xbox Series X|S wasn’t breaking away from what came before. It almost felt like Xbox wasn’t making the jump to “next gen” at all.
And yet, a year later, I love the fact that the UI was the same as the Xbox One UI and hasn’t changed all that much in the following months. I know exactly where everything is and didn’t have to relearn what buttons to press to navigate my console. In comparison to PS5 where I’m still, a whole year later, struggling to remember to navigate through a menu to the power off button instead of just holding the controller’s home button to bring up the power options, it’s been nice to rely on the familiarity of how to navigate the UI for Xbox Series X|S.
Somehow, it’s still really hard to buy one
Between the production shortages affecting the whole world on account of the COVID pandemic and scalpers moving on online retailers in unprecedented numbers, it is still really hard to actually buy an Xbox Series X or Series S. I expected both consoles to be difficult to pick up at launch, but I figured that it would be possible to just walk into your local retailer and spot an Xbox Series X or Series S on the shelf within a year of their release. That’s just not the case though, and it’s looking like the situation isn’t changing anytime soon.
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